“Then We Came to the End”

July 16, 2008 at 1:50 am | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments

Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris, is absolute genius.  I don’t say this lightly.  This book would be impressive for an established writer, but for a debut novel it’s simply incredible.  It could best be described as what would happen if Douglas Coupland and Joseph Heller collaborated to write the script for Office Space.

Anyone who has ever worked in a cubicle will be cracking up within a few pages.  There is one absurd scenario after another, yet despite the absurdity, they possess the undeniable ring of truth.  While the book is a masterpiece of satire, it is also deeply felt and quite moving.  Let me remind you how difficult this is to pull off.  Go down the comedy aisle at Blockbuster and remind yourself of all the awful two-star comedies you’ve seen.  What makes them two-star efforts?  The jokes are cheap, the premise is, well, stupid, the actors are phoning it in… Bad comedy is memorable only in its worst moments, the can’t-believe-they-went-there outrages upon our intelligence.  The best comedy is great because it touches upon great truths.  We can’t produce it by committee, but we can certainly recognize it when we see it.  It helps us transcend our quotidian hassles and, for a moment, see to the heart of things, the inherent goofiness of the human condition.  Ferris is right there, pointing it out with a big cardboard arrow like those guys advertising new housing developments.

The other interesting thing about this book is that it’s written in first person plural.  I’ve seen this group narration done successfully only once before, in Jeffrey Eugenides’s classic The Virgin Suicides.  It’s hard to imagine Then We Came to the End done from the point of view of a single character, whether first or third person.  One of the little fascinations about the book is wondering whether the narrator’s voice belongs to one of the many characters, or whether someone we haven’t met is speaking to us from behind the scrim.

Ferris has a gift for finding comedy in the face of life’s darker moments.  He’s set himself a pretty high bar for his next effort, though.  The second novel often proves to be something of a hurdle for new authors.  Here’s hoping Ferris sails over it.  I’m dropping everything the minute his next book comes out.

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3 Comments »

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  1. I was almost positive that this would be the book that would win the Pulitzer this year. So glad to read your review. I’m hoping it’ll pop up over here soon.

  2. Based on your glowing review alone, I’ve expeditiously added this book to my TBR list.

  3. Ahh, the Pulitzer… “There can be only one.” I read “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” right before the announcement was made, and I think I can see it. But I don’t think I would have predicted it. I’m curious to see whether I can guess the 2009 winner.


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