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Review: Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

Review: Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris post image

Title: The We Came to the End: A Novel
Author: Joshua Ferris
Genre: Fiction
Year: 2007
Acquired: Borrowed from my sister
Rating: ★★★★☆

One Sentence Summary: Workers at a Chicago ad agency work together through a struggling economy, sharing the intimate and shallow details of their lives.

One Sentence Review: Ferris’ style and sense of humor make this book a great read for anyone who has spent time stuck in a cubicle.

Why I Read It: I read good reviews of The Unnamed and wanted to read something by Joshua Ferris, so grabbed this one from my sister when I saw it on her shelves.

Long Review: Once I decided that I wanted to read Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, I started seeing it everywhere — on display at the library, featured our local bookstore, on the shelves of an acquaintance in Madison, and then at my sister’s house when I went to Iowa for the Read-a-Thon. That’s when I took it as a sign that I should read this book.

Then We Came to the End is set at a struggling ad agency in Chicago, and is about the weirdly intimate but shallow relationships people build with their co-workers. There isn’t really one main character or storyline to share — I guess the fact that the ad agency is struggling in the down economy and has to lay people off is one thing, but it’s more a sense of anxiety than a plot.

The entire book is written in second person, so you get this ongoing sense of group think and community that can happen in the closed culture of an office. And the book has the most killer first paragraph:

We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise. At least those of us who smoked had something to look forward to at ten-fifteen. Most of us liked most everyone, a few of us hated specific individuals, one or two people loved everyone and everything. Those who loved everyone were unanimously reviled. We loved free bagels in the morning. They happened all too infrequently. Our benefits were astonishing in comprehensiveness and quality of care. Sometimes we questioned whether they were worth it. We thought moving to India might be better, or going back to nursing school. Doing something with the handicapped or working with our hands. No one ever acted on these impulses, despite their daily, sometimes hourly contractions. Instead we met in conference rooms to discuss the issue of the day.

I’ve only been working at my job for about six months, but I can already see that that paragraph is just exactly right. Wow.

I thought this book was really funny, spot on in many of it’s pokes at corporate life, but also oddly emotionally engaging — I really fell for these characters in the end and was sad that I was leaving them when the book ended. I think this book would be a funny read for just about anyone who works in the kind of place where office managers track chairs and people get judged by the photos, or lack their of, they display next to their computer monitor.

Other Reviews: Asylum | Buried in Print | The Betty and Boo Chronicles |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lenore November 7, 2010, 8:46 am

    I read this back when it came out and it was one of my favorites of that year. I work in advertising, so it had a special resonance with me!

    A friend promptly borrowed it and has yet to return it to me…

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:12 pm

      Lenore: I think it might be one of my favorites this year too. I bet it’d be especially great if you were in an ad agency since all the cubicle stuff would be even more relevant 🙂

  • Amy November 7, 2010, 8:56 am

    This does sound hilarious and pretty spot on! I’ll have to check it out.

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:13 pm

      Amy: Parts were pretty absurd, but the more down-to-earth parts were so on it was sort of scary 🙂

  • Trisha November 7, 2010, 9:03 am

    I remember working in an office, in a cubicle… I am so glad I’m out of there. But still this sounds like a fun book.

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:13 pm

      Trisha: I think there can be good cubes and bad cubes — in this case it was bad cubes, I think 🙂 It is a fun book, because of the way it can make fun of that stuff.

  • Meghan November 7, 2010, 9:18 am

    I also work in an office and that’s the main reason I picked this one up – even just the back sounded like a description of my life. That paragraph really makes it clear – I think I’ll like this one! I’m glad I have it already.

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:15 pm

      Meghan: Yeah, I felt the same way about the back! It just sounded like something I’d know about. I think the first paragraph does a great job setting up the entire rest of the book.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) November 7, 2010, 9:40 am

    I read this a while ago and didn’t love it as much as everyone else did. I think it was the second person narration – that’s just not my favorite.

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:16 pm

      Kathy: Second person narration is tricky. I don’t usually like it, but I think it worked this time because it supported the sense of group think that develops in an office, the sort of collective acceptance of norms and people that outsiders might think is weird.

  • Steph November 7, 2010, 10:00 am

    Kim, I’m so glad you liked this one! I’ve found that bloggers are quite split on this book, but it’s one of my all-time favorites. I just found it perfect in every way. It was funny and sad and was one of those books I kept thinking of long after I had finished it. I really must re-read it!

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:17 pm

      Steph: I’ve been thinking about the book too, but the funny and sad parts. I wish I had my own copy instead of having to return my sister’s copy.

  • Thomas at My Porch November 7, 2010, 11:17 am

    I am glad you liked this book. It is one of my favorites but so many people really dislike it. And I am glad you included the opening paragraph. I think it has one of the best opening lines of all time: “We were fractious and overpaid.” Brilliant.

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:17 pm

      Thomas: Yes! It is such a great opening line, it just made me smile. I can see why the style and some of the book would be hard, but I just really enjoyed the entire time I was reading it.

  • Ash November 7, 2010, 11:55 am

    I got this book at a used bookstore over the summer and still haven’t read it. I got it for the same reasons you read it, I wanted to read something by Joshua Ferris and I saw this book everywhere. Maybe I’ll be able to get this one in before the end of the year.

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:18 pm

      Ash: I hope you like the book if you get the chance to read it. Finishing made me more motivated to read The Unnamed.

  • Christy (A Good Stopping Point) November 7, 2010, 1:14 pm

    I love the first paragraph. It makes me think of my workplace in some respects. I already have this one on my to-read list and your review confirms its need to be there.

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:19 pm

      Christy: It reminds me a little of my work place too, although we’re certainly not as odd as the ad agency. I think that’s part of the great stuff in this book – it gets a lot of universal-y things that happen in an office.

  • Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) November 7, 2010, 1:17 pm
    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:19 pm

      Melissa: Thanks, I’ll add yours as well!

  • Cass November 7, 2010, 1:26 pm

    If only the whole book had been as good as the first chapter, I might have enjoyed this book a bit. I just didn’t get why the two major plot twists were necessary. I still shake my fist at this book whenever I see it in stores…hahaha. I feel like i should give Ferris another chance, though, since so many people I respect enjoy his work.

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:20 pm

      Cass: Lol, that’s funny. I guess the plot twists didn’t bother me, although the second big one at the end surprised me because I didn’t think it would actually happen. Cryptic enough 🙂

  • Gwen November 7, 2010, 5:28 pm

    Okay, I disliked The Unnamed so I would normally stay away from Ferris for awhile, but you make this sound magnifico! That one paragraph alone is so dead on that I have to read the rest.

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:21 pm

      Gwen: I’m not sure how this compares to The Unnamed, but I did really like it on it’s own merits. I thought it was funny and sad and interesting all the way through.

  • Colleen (Books in the City) November 7, 2010, 6:55 pm

    I really enjoyed Unnamed and am looking forward to reading (or maybe listening to) Then We Came To The End. Thanks for the review!

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:22 pm

      Colleen: Hope you like it!

  • Florinda November 7, 2010, 8:39 pm

    I read this one two years ago and liked it a lot – a lot of the office stuff was totally on-target, I still haven’t gotten to The Unnamed, but am looking forward to it.

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:22 pm

      Florinda: I think it’s funny how universal some of the office things can be, that all of us having worked in totally different offices can find so many things to relate to.

  • Erin November 7, 2010, 8:41 pm

    One of my coworkers at my old bookstore job really loved this book. I’ve never read it, because I’ve never really worked in a cubicle. I definitely want to read The Unnamed, though!

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:23 pm

      Erin: I’m looking forward to The Unnamed having read this book. I almost bought it this weekend, but refrained since I have so many other books to read right now!

  • Lisa November 7, 2010, 9:31 pm

    Huh, I thought this was about something totally different. I just left my office job, perhaps I should pick it up.

    • Kim November 8, 2010, 9:23 pm

      Lisa: I think you might like it if you give it a try. I wasn’t sure exactly what I thought it was about before reading it, either.