Thursday, February 19, 2009

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

Something I look for in a novel is a surprise, something unexpected. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris delivers this and more. The book opens as a clever story constructed around the lives of copywriters and art directors in an ad agency going through a steady stream of layoffs.

The narrative centers around the office chat, especially discussions of past events. Through this technique the present and the past are intermingled:
{past event} [Yop] lifted the suitcase and climbed over the breaker one leg at a time ... and began to walk away, but stopped and turned back to address Jim. "I would thank you for your help, Jim, "he said, "but I've always considered you an idiot.

{present reaction} Yop's final remark to Jim Jackers sent Marcia over the edge.
This almost too clever style and the dark humor approach to the layoffs lulled me into an expectation of light fiction, but this novel has more to it. Gradually, circumstances - a fired employee returns to shoot up the office and the boss's breast cancer - break down the characters' facades and the reader's expectations. By the point everyone is gathered in the hospital, tears rolled down my cheeks.

In his first novel, Joshua Ferris shows himself to be more than a clever writer.

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