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Then We Came to the End: A Novel
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Then We Came to the End: A Novel

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Description:

No one knows us quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts.  Every office is a family of sorts, and the ad agency Joshua Ferris brilliantly depicts in his debut novel is family at its strangest and best, coping with a business downturn in the time-honored way: through gossip, pranks, and increasingly frequent coffee breaks.
     With a demon's eye for the details that make life worth noticing, Joshua Ferris tells a true and funny story about survival in life's strangest environment--the one we pretend is normal five days a week.

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Product Details:
Author: Joshua Ferris
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: February 26, 2008
Language: English
ISBN: 031601639X
Product Length: 5.51 inches
Product Width: 1.14 inches
Product Height: 8.27 inches
Product Weight: 0.87 pounds
Package Length: 8.2 inches
Package Width: 5.4 inches
Package Height: 1.2 inches
Package Weight: 0.9 pounds
Average Customer Rating: based on 366 reviews
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360 of 391 found the following review helpful:

5What is "Then We Came To The End" trying to say?  Apr 21, 2007
By David Kusumoto
Despite widespread critical acclaim, this book has gotten mixed reviews from customers.

I understand it, and people who hated it aren't wrong. I'd like to address these criticisms later, so please stick with me.

The positive reviews I've read about "Then We Came To The End" are mostly spot-on -- but without giving it away, they don't consistently convey WHY this amusing, touching and ultimately tender book soars - at least for me.

It's the ending.

The last 20 pages of Joshua Ferris's book twisted and turned me in every direction. But it's THE VERY LAST LINE -- (DON'T CHEAT) -- that catapulted me into the universe with the most glorious twist of all.

Many writers searching for something to leave behind that feels ironic or profound -- I'm sorry -- in my view, they just don't know how to end their books. I say this as a consumer who's a voracious reader. Their last pages feel quietly pretentious -- or a little too contemplative or optimistic. Even great literature - especially prize-winning literature - can be so tortuous in construction or over-reaching in their efforts to convey some grand message -- that they feel like work, with sentences so mind-numbing that you need a dictionary and a level of concentration akin to taking a bar exam.

"Then We Came To The End" may not be considered great literature, but it's euphoric. It's wonderful. It underscores that nebulous "thing" that makes the office dull and robotic -- but also vital and vibrant, essential to our lives. The book makes me question, admire and dismiss -- all at once -- why I put up with so much " s***," why I find great satisfaction in my work on one day and why I hate everything the next. The masochistic, sadistic and triumphal feelings I have about work -- and about the "back stories" of my colleagues around me -- there's something weirdly magnetic about all of it -- even as I complain, complain, complain.

In my view, the simplicity (or difficulty) associated with "Then We Came To The End" really depends on whether the material hits you in a way that's familiar and funny, not dull or indulgent. It can do both. And as others have stated, the author's use of the first person plural "we" -- in every chapter but one -- can't be overstated. It's miraculous when it works -- because it's so difficult to pull off without fumbling or confusing the reader. When it does work (as it did for me) - when it's infused with content so beguiling and familiar -- you're no longer aware of the author's writing style, which should be the dream achievement of all great writers. Reading becomes effortless as the clock melts away.

Joshua Ferris recently said in an interview -- and at a recent book signing -- that the thing intriguing about every office is this: Even if you don't know everyone very well or at all, EVERYONE has an OPINION about YOU and everyone else.

This may feel like a universal nugget of common sense, but you're not really aware of it until it unfurls between the lines and chapters of this book. The beginning of most chapters include sub-chapter "headlines" which tease you about what's to come. Soon, boredom and irreverence are transformed into amusing and almost affectionate feelings -- about everything that happens.

The biggest criticism about "Then We Came to the End" is the skeletal development of its characters. Well, when I got to the last line on the last page, it became more clear to me why this MUST be the case. Every character -- in every chapter but one -- is presented as a "type."

But this feels intentional. The collective "we" is forced to guess what each character is thinking. And like most offices, "we" can only know as much as what we SEE or HEAR. The most trivial information becomes precious and titanic. And the results can be tragic AND darkly funny. The collective "we" can't read minds, so we draw our own conclusions to ridiculous lengths. In the end, we have sketches. And this feels right. How many of our co-workers become life-long friends with whom we trust to share our most intimate secrets? One or two if we're lucky. It takes work - AT WORK - to get beneath the surface of our colleagues. Almost everyone comes off thinly drawn because the collective "we" is forever deprived a complete picture of WHAT and HOW each person thinks.

For example, I know people in my office, but some remain a mystery. When I get together with colleagues, we trade stories about everyone. When one guy leaves the room, we might talk about him. Or not. Most of our stories are sprinkled with guesses and presumptions. Who's deviant? Who's got the gun collection? Who's the lush? Who's got the wild double life? "Someone" might know, but "we" as a group don't.

I would say that "Then We Came to the End" is an observational and episodic novel -- subject to wide interpretation -- because of a literary device that seldom works in most novels. If you're looking for "fleshed out" characters and profound themes, you won't find them here. This book isn't for you and this is not a criticism. Your complaints are justified. I believe expectations matter. A novel so widely acclaimed that disappoints will cause anyone to say out loud, "well, this was all hype" - or - "man oh man, those critics are so out of touch with me."

I still believe Ferris has captured the delicate balance between satire and brutal truth, the latter in ways which sound superficial and cliché, but woven in his book as they do, rang true for me.

There's something strange about that colleague you regard with derision or fear on one level, but with admiration and respect the next. And what about work itself? Why is our identity and self-image defined by it? Why does it have to matter more than just a way to put bread on the table? These questions went through my head as I turned each page.

So yeah, I know it's still early. But in my view, "Then We Came To The End" is the most remarkable debut of 2007. While it's difficult to imagine Joshua Ferris topping this, I've no doubt he has a tremendous future and a unique voice that will always feel relevant.

81 of 88 found the following review helpful:

4Mornings without Promise.  Apr 06, 2007
By Retired Reader
This is an excellent first novel about the employees of that most storied of institutions, an advertising agency. It is simultaneously touching, amusing, and engrossing. It is not, however, the hilarious laugh riot or biting satire that some would claim. Perhaps the sprit of the novel was best summed up in its second sentence, "Our mornings lacked promise." This is a story related by an anonymous narrator about a group of individuals working on the creative staff of a nameless mid-sized Chicago ad agency and it is entirely office centric. The reader sees the people as one would see one's own co-workers in an office setting with only occasional references to homes and families.

As the 21st Century begins, the billings of the agency decline precipitously and being fired or fear of being fired soon becomes a dark undercurrent that runs through everything else that happens in offices and cubicles of the agency's creative staff. As the novel progresses one learns more and more about the quirks and mannerism these hapless folks. Their humanity becomes quite real. If the reader will allow it, you can find yourself actually caring about the individuals that the narrator tells you about. Those of us that are or were knowledge workers will have a haunting sense of familiarity about the people and situations described in this book.

Joshua Ferris has an ear for dialogue and an understanding of emotions that is quite impressive. This reviewer likes his style and the way he structured this novel.

30 of 33 found the following review helpful:

5I love this book  Feb 22, 2007
By Constance Michener
An office dalliance leads to impending maternity. A coworker mourns her child's death. A corporate best-girl refuses to face issues of her own mortality until she finds herself turning from it minute by minute. A shattered individual shares the Emerson quotes that keep his quirkily heroic persona together with whomever he sees may be similarly troubled. Another tries to make his way free of friendship, turning away from even admitting witness of non-official office events.

Meanwhile, the rest of the office gets together to kill time, compete for first-discovery rights on information, try to make sense of the world through group consensus, and keep their creative saws sharpened in the dot-com downturn.

I love Then We Came to the End. It is a wonderfully sympathetic novel of work relationships. Just what should "work" mean to a person? What attachments, what level of attachments, what kind of caring, is normal on the job? And isn't it almost too painfully obvious how frail and silly anyone we know is, really? This is a wonderfully real take on office life, exhibiting a refreshingly well-grounded, sympathetic view of multiple office characters.

The narration exhibits a kind of sympathetic ambivalence in its examination of a working social group. In a world where so many colorful characters are written off as "crazy," Ferris patiently gets to motives. The narrator, written in first-person plural, thinks and feels the same as thinking people assessing confusing situations in this modern world. One can feel admiration and jealousy at once, one can cop to the noble and the prurient.

It's a fine examination of what people think and do; and what it means to take action; what it means to witness and to participate.

[...]

68 of 81 found the following review helpful:

5Brilliant first novel...Brilliant Novel  Feb 19, 2007
By R. Howell
No matter how much we love the established names, the Roths, the Pynchons, the McCarthy's, nothing is quite so exciting as a new author. With that excitement, however, comes the peril of disappointment. Ferris does not disappoint. One gets the feeling upon reading this book that a new but permanent voice is being added to the American literary scene, and that we are lucky to have a book like this on our shelves.

Yes, it is written in the first-person plural, from the perspective of an ad agency, and yes it is laugh-out-loud funny. But the style is no gimmick--it reinforces the subtle cultural commentary offered by the book: a message leavened by the humor and delivered with the lightest of touches. This book is the full package. Ignore it at your own risk.

61 of 73 found the following review helpful:

1I Thought I'd Never Get To The End!  Aug 02, 2008
By T. Stevens
Is Joshua Ferris a terrible writer? Of course not. Are the people who loved this book insane? Far from it! And not only do I heartily admire Mr. Ferris for completing a novel and getting it published - something I probably will never achieve for myself - I also respect anyone who could finish this book and find an inspiring message within. Reviews are subjective, and all I can say is that I really tried to like this book, but after reading page after page, word after word, my will to live slowly drained from my body, and my inner voice screamed, "Just Give Up Already!" But I didn't give up. But I didn't enjoy it either. I kept waiting for the agony to lessen and the uplifting experience to begin. You know it's bad (or should I say, WE know it's bad) when there's only 30 pages to go, and we still have to force ourselves to pick it up. Inside joke there! See I was paying attention. So my advice to anyone who's made it halfway through this book and loves it, is to keep going because you'll probably love it even more. But if you get to the halfway point and start debating whether to finish the whole thing, or to move on - MOVE ON! Really. Cause if you don't like it by page 190, you won't like it by page 385. Things I didn't like: The characters were so forgettable, that I think even the author had trouble keeping them straight, which may explain why he kept referring to them by their first and last names, even in dialogue. Even though none of the (numerous) characters shared a first name. I thought that was completely unrealistic. Whoever refers to their co-workers by first and last name in speech? "Oh Martha Jeffers, could you go ask Chris McDonald over there if he has the reports for Fergus Magnusson?" One particular character was called Jim Jackers, and I confess to alleviate the tedium I silently referred to him as Jim J****ss - you know like the MTV inspired movie. Now THAT made me laugh! And there was not much written about their lives outside the office. So I didn't really feel like I had a handle on the characters. Also towards the last quarter of the novel, something happens which I thought was interesting, but then turned out to be more of a red herring. By the very end, when the author talks about what's happened to some of the characters, I knew that had I connected with them, I would have found it moving, but I really didn't care. Kind of like when you go to see a movie and the soundtrack swells up when it wants the audience to cry, but instead you think it's a good time to go get popcorn. How ironic that the title of the book is Then We Came To The End, because I honestly thought I'd never reach the end! The more I read, the further away the ending seemed to get. Like in Poltergeist when the mother is running desperately towards the door, but the faster she runs, the further away the door got. I know this review is long, rambling, unfair and biased. Let me repeat - a lot of people will find much to admire about this book and rightly so. But there are people like me who wish that they could just step into a time machine and put the book back on the shelf and walk away.

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