Agency

Exhibit 9.24

Then We Came to the End

Joshua Ferris’s debut novel is good. Very good. So good, in fact, that I’m really having a hard time coming up with anything to say about it other than repeated assertions of its quality. Which is not to say it’s a shallow book, but rather it’s just a satisfying one, the rare novel that I find myself unwilling to look into too deeply out of the fear that I’ll find an excuse to enjoy it less than I did.

The story of an advertising agency struggling through the post-dotcom malaise, Ferris’s novel lays out a smartly satirical version of the modern American office. Despite contemporary attempts to make it something else through coffee bars and Aeron chairs, the office in Then We… is still a work place, its inhabitants still workers. That they love work as much as they loathe it is something they are constantly aware of even if they are not quite capable of admitting it to themselves. Their desperate struggle to keep their jobs through the economic downturn seems to have made them subconsciously aware of the fact that despite their varied, half-hearted interests (writing, pranks, adultery, etc.) their jobs are all they really have.

The collection of workers, age 25-35, a “generation that hasn’t seen war,” speaks in the first person plural, a very clever narrative device that allows the book both the intimacy and anonymity of an office. The reader knows just enough about the characters to tell them apart but is unable to follow them home or really know them beyond the fuzzy truth of office gossip. It works remarkably well, but also very differently than, say, The Virgin Suicides, another book in the first person plural. Whereas that book was about the collective gaze’s ability to destroy, this book’s collective is one of shared consciousness. By looking inward rather than outward, the mass narrator of Then We… uses the limits of its construction to mimic the limits of individualism (and individual knowledge) in a deceptively impersonal work environment. It’s just as effective as The Virgin Suicides, but in exactly the opposite way.

What both books share is the lack of accountability the ‘we’ allows. Decisions are made but no one makes them. Betrayals and friendships are formed but the reasons can only be guessed (and then gossiped). The emotions are equally shared, making every moment of sadness or pleasure small and universal. Not surprisingly, the most successful character is one who intentionally keeps himself out of the group and finds himself climbing up the corporate ladder (his reasons for doing so are spelled out painfully in a long conversation, perhaps the book’s biggest misstep).

The narration is not without its drawbacks, however, but Ferris proves himself to be a remarkably instinctual writer who shifts the novel just when the voice begins to wane. It really is an impressive feat to keep all of the balls in the air as he does, and by the time the book heads into its final pages, the ‘we’ has become a character of its own which he also makes pay off nicely in the book’s nostalgic and melancholy ending about how much we can miss people we barely even knew.

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