Joshua Ferris’ first novel, Then We Came to the End, is an unusual and entertaining depiction of office life during a time of budget cuts and layoffs. There are not many novels that center around the life of an office, and the narration is also unusual. Ferris uses first person plural, “we.” The narrator is not a character in the story — it’s the everyman office worker. But while the narrator is anonymous, the use of “we” includes the reader — it is as if we are part of the office crowd, part of the narrator’s “we.”
There are many quirky characters that work at the novel’s advertising agency. But far from being entirely comic, they have life problems that arouse our sympathy. As more and more employees are laid off, we root for the novel’s characters to keep their jobs, if only to keep them in the story. There are two situations that run through the story that threaten to become melodramatic but never do. One of them, involving an illess, provides a heart to the novel, a contrast to the semi-wisecracking tone of the rest of the novel. This section is also narrated in the third person.
There are grievances and acts of rebellion that keep us lauging. For example, when an employee is laid off, others rush in to exchange chairs. All is well until they realize that the petty tyrant of an office manager has all the serial numbers. There is a scramble to retrieve original chairs, as everyone fears getting laid off for the minor infraction of chair-stealing.
Then We Came To The End is an entertaining and quick read, highly recommended especially if you can relate to office politics.