Bart's Reviews > Then We Came to the End

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
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's review
Jan 17, 2008

it was ok
Recommended to Bart by: New York Times Notable Books
Recommended for: Fans of MFA fiction
Read in January, 2008

Because so many of the GoodReads folks are participants or graduates of MFA programs, and because Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris is so obviously the product of an MFA program, I thought to hedge and give this book three stars. But that would be dishonest.

Truth is, but for 34 pages in the middle of this novel, I didn't enjoy Ferris's debut at all. Oh, it's witty and flippant and clever and occasionally funny, but ultimately it's not enjoyable.

It fails for the reason so many MFA-workshopped novels fail: It's a technically proficient piece of writing about unserious folks discovering truths that serious persons generally know long before their 30th birthdays.

Then We Came to the End begins like a sequel to the movie "Office Space", written by Chuck Palahniuk. It's written in the first-person plural, which is about the extent of its original contributions. We this, and we that. It's neither annoying nor enticing - but it seems to want to provoke commentary.

On Page 2, we get this insight: "Our boredom was ongoing, a collective boredom, and it would never die because we would never die."

One of the great discoveries that happens in this novel, over the next 384 pages, is that persons do, as it turns out, die. At the very end of the novel - six years later - we learn that a number of the officemates in fact died. Why kill off these innocuous folks? Who knows? maybe to appear serious?

But there's a piece of writing, an accomplishment of actual storytelling, that begins on Page 196 and treats the pathos of a person recently diagnosed with breast cancer. All the zaniness and shallowness of the novel's first half are temporarily forgotten while Ferris does an exceptionally good job of writing. From Page 196 to 230, this novel transcends itself and its pedigree. These 30 pages are the novel's best pages, and Ferris (or his editor) knows it.

How do we know he knows it? Because after another 150 or so pages of cleverly describing office luncheons and chair-swapping capers and employee layoffs, Ferris comes back to it. He gives his least memorable character the task of reuniting all the unlikable folks from the office, six years after their end, for a reading of his novel.

What excerpt is read? Part of the breast-cancer story from pages 196-230.

On Then We Came to the End's back cover, an author named Jim Shepard writes, "The real revelation here is how moving it all becomes . . ." I disagree.
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04/05 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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Carrie your review is exactly how i felt!

Brendan As an ignorant Canadian and a person who has never been in an MFA program, how can you tell that this is "so obviously the product of an MFA program"?

message 3: by Ana (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ana I find this book so real. I think it's beautifully written and also very funny. It really describes the atmosphere, the people and the situations in an advertising agency.

Katy I think that you missed the point. The characters weren't "killed off." They died because their lives took them where they wanted to go, and they ended up dying. (With the exception of Lynn...I think we all knew she would die.) Ferris presented a real world, and in the real world, people die. There were no dramatic tears, dreary funerals. They died, we found out. I don't understand why people feel the need to dissect "why characters were killed off."

Bill Loved your review, though I don't agree with it. It's funny, pages 196 to 230 are what I skip when I reread it. That whole section strikes me as pretentious and false somehow. As for the rest of the novel, I think it's a question of tone and what you like. I can see your point about the MFA program and it's valid to a degree. I guess the satire just worked for me in a way that it didn't for you. And I did see a real depth to the characters here despite the flip tone. Anyway, thanks again for a great review, though I respectfully disagree.

Nicole I agree with the pages about Lynn, that was the part of the book that I enjoyed the most. For me, the main character in this novel wasn't the office and the people in the office; the main character was Lynn's cancer. I was between giving it two or three stars, and at the end I gave it three because it wasn't bad writing and yes it was different, but this guy has potential. The last sentence left me smiling, and I'm not a Joshua Ferris fan yet, but who knows if this kid keeps at it he may produce some gold.

message 7: by Ty (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ty "MFA Fiction" is an analytically weak and vague category, but as long as we're using it I'll add that I thought pages 196-230 were the most "MFA-esque" in that they were trying so hard to nail a profound truth about life and death (and not really succeeding).

Lesley Bart, you perfectly articulated how I felt about TWCTTE." a technically proficient piece of writing about unserious folks discovering truths that serious persons generally know long before their 30th birthdays." Yup. There were some amusing bits, (the character communicating only in dialogue from the Godfather was inspired) but it had nothing new or especially revelatory to say about the boredom and shallowness of office life. Only the segment about Lynn was memorable.

message 9: by Steffan (new)

Steffan Love this section. You are wise beyond your years, sir.

"It fails for the reason so many MFA-workshopped novels fail: It's a technically proficient piece of writing about unserious folks discovering truths that serious persons generally know long before their 30th birthdays."

If I wrote a book, that people would want to skip parts on a re-read, I probably failed.

message 10: by Amber (new) - rated it 1 star

Amber I agree completely. Except Chuck Palahniuk didn't write "Office Space." Mike Judge did.

Jennifer I think your review was really well-written. I don't agree 100%, though. MFA candidates / graduates typically have the luxury of not having to work in a cubicle farm and therefore wouldn't necessarily pick up on the authenticity of characterization in TWCTTE. Just my thoughts.

Claude I think the middle part of the book i.e. Lynn's cancer was a very badly placed piece of writing. It completely detracted from the overall intention of the book: superficial realities. After reading those pages I found I could not like the book as much as I previously could. You can't simply go from mundane, to serious and revert back to mundane again. Though Farris tried this it didn't work for me. I did like the last few lines though. Anyone know what he means on the last page when he writes "We were the only two left." Is he referencing the reader and being inclusive? Or is he leaving a clue as to which two characters were the last to leave the pub?

Joseph I felt the part about Lynn was silly and obvious. The rest of the book was interesting -- and if you think most people could get away with writing a first-person-collective novel in an MFA workshop, you've got another think coming.

Carol Okay, Bart, you're Walking Spanish with this review.

David Baughman Maybe it was Joe Pope and the reader left at the bar?

message 16: by June (new)

June Schwarz MFA dishwater. And actually, many of us who leave MFA programs end up in cubicle farms, some of us long-term. No matter how good the program, not every graduate is inclined to teach. The right office job provides ample time to write.

Brian totally agree with your opinion of the lynn section in the middle: it was really good writing! it's one of the first notes i took down for my own review! one thing though, the way i read it was that the lynn chapter was basically an excerpted part of hank's novel (which did NOT include all the other zaniness...would hank really write a novel like that? i think not).

perhaps the sincerity of the lynn chapter just wouldn't have cut it though. ferris had to do something weird, unconventional to try to stand out?

anyway, i was surprised to see the top review on this book agree so closely with what stood out the most for me, thanks for writing it! :)

Susie And here I thought I was crazy for lovin the middle of the book and nothing else. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

Maria I found it interesting that the part of the book that you liked the most was the part I liked the least.

message 20: by Fizzy123 (new) - added it

Fizzy123 Nice. I think its a soldish 3 but I can see where you're coming from.

Joshua Funny. I enjoyed it EXCEPT for those 34 pages, though I also thought the book as a whole went on a tad too long.

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