Fiction: Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris

Our challenge book for April.
GirlReaction: We both came to really like it in the end, Dad perhaps a bit more than me, but it was a bit of a struggle to get into. There were times when I felt he played a little fast and loose with the third-person narrative: i.e., if “we over here” don’t like “those people over there” they should be “they”s not also another set of “we”s. And I wonder if this book will have a lasting legacy; it’s VERY much a book of its time: of a world with “Office Space” and “The Office” and layoffs and recession/depression (and bonus for me: set in Chicago!).
DadReaction, first: Weirdest response: read one paragraph and thought ‘going to like this’. read two paragraphs and thought ‘can’t go on’–happens everytime I pick it up!! There seems to be an underlying suicidal depression about it–maybe it takes me back to when I was desperately job hunting when you guys were tiny. Tres traumatic.
GirlReaction: That may have been part of my struggle with the book as well: my current-day frustrations with the bureaucratic office environment and at the point we were reading this, I had not yet given notice and it did seem each day like I might just be there forever, until I eventually died there and why am I reading a book about people just as unhappy as me…. Arggghhhhhh. However, at some point I did find my way to enjoying the characters and all their many tics and nuances, and I thought it really picked up after a bit. Really enjoyed the Lynn-centric section and the way that really evolved the action.
DadReaction, second: Finished the book of the month. Okay: officially declaring this the best book I’ve read this year. Amazing effects, some wallops. So weird that it was so hard to get into. But it did take off, as you PROMISED. More than that, though: really mesmerizing use of the ‘we’–it gave the narration a real spaciousness, as though this stuff was always happening, the way you really do feel at work, when it seems like you’ve been telling the same jokes forever. Great comic moments, but a real dive into seriousness–esp. with the Lynn episode, but also when you really believe Tom Mota COULD be blowing people away.
Some very teasing character developments, with Joe Pope and Jim and Amber and Larry, who all seem kind of throw away when they first come round but then he keeps circling them and they all kind of come alive. Oh, and then it was cool that he would mention other people you never heard of, just the way you do when you’re telling work tales.
What else? I’m starting to think we should declare a moratorium–wait, no, an outright, absolute BAN on all references to September 11, 2001–because, folks, there really have been worse disasters in history and it’s only the infantile Americans who don’t seem to realize that. Or realize that we have killed more people in its wake than we want to admit.
But that said, I loved the leap at the end with Hank’s novel and the VERY nice touch that it wasn’t this entire novel but only the part about Lynn. But the greatest part WAS the way the ‘we’ sort of surrounded you without ever becoming focussed and that wonderful, wonderful last line with just ‘you and me’ left. That’s from the Muse her ownself.
Oh, and wasn’t Janine sitting in the McDonald’s play area just a crushing image–and those jerks staring at her, and Joe calling them on it, and then they really feel their primal jerkiness. I thought a lot of it was LIKE Kafka but more fetching than Kafka, less distant and more able to draw you in, but still the same strangeness. And how about Benny’s totem pole?!! (Tres glad Marcia and Benny linked up.)
But now: ALL THAT SAID–why does it seem like IT REALLY DOES TAKE FOREVER TO READ!!!!!!?????????? I felt like I’d never get through it, even as I enjoyed each moment. (To be fair, my own exhaustion could have played a part in that.)

1 thought on “Fiction: Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris

  1. Yes, exactly. I think both of you hit all of my reactions to this book as well. I remember feeling incredibly disappointed t the 9/11 mention — it felt tacked on like it was meant to make all of it RELEVANT.

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