“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 one and everything. Those who loved everyone were unanimously reviled.”
So begins Then We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris's poignant yet amusing tale of an ad agency in decline. There is a large cast of characters, slipping in and out of the main story, but we get to know them well enough that we're sad when they're gone.
Ferris employed a 1st person collective point of view (probably not the grammatical term), a Greek chorus to add insight into daily disappointments, emotional explosions, coworker relations and other hilarities. We are one of them, always sensitive to the absurdities inherent in office life but powerless to do anything about it, except engage in petty games such as chair swapping and pranks that are effective only in ruining productivity.
We have all been in this situation: the endless tug-of-war between people whose life begins at 8:00 Monday morning, and people whose life begins at 5:00 PM Friday.
Then, halfway through the book, once we think we've established our relationship with this book - something to read in your off periods, not requiring much concentration, with little impetus to get through to the end - Ferris finds its heart. The second half of the novel is no less funny or insightful, but these characters become more than ciphers, they come alive, with their own contradictions, motivations.
And with that shift, we are exposed to surprises and unexpected twists; this is not a 'literary' novel; the plotting is strong. Best of all, Ferris shows how the most offhand sliver of information can alter our entire view of someone we think we know, that we've 'typed' into a comfortable box.
Ferris has said that he was trying to probe the nature of 'groupthink.' Instead, he has created an engaging portrait of the seismic shifts caused by the most minute changes.