Then We Came to the End Then We Came to the End discussion


252 views
Constant Reader

Comments Showing 1-41 of 41 (41 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Sherry (last edited Sep 16, 2008 06:09AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry Let's start discussing this August 15, 2008. Then We Came to the End


message 2: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Brassawe We watched Lynn’s face for some sort of reaction. “Let me have a closer look,” she said. Jim handed the ad to her. She took it and we felt no different than we did when sitting in her office waiting for her to assess and judge and deliver her verdict on real ads.
“This is funny,” she said.
“But you’re not laughing,” said Jim.
“I never laugh, Jim,” she replied. Which was true, she never laughed. She only said, “This is funny.” And then you knew she liked it.


That was exactly my reaction to this book. The blurbs oversold the comedy here. There was too much reliance on the word “hilarious” by the blurbers. This book was not hilarious. But many times I said to myself, “Now that’s funny.”

Many have not finished this book, I know. I will be careful of spoilers for awhile.

The first person plural viewpoint was very interesting. But in addition it set up one of the great endings to a novel that I have read recently. I still think the ending to The English Patient is the best I’ve ever come across, but this is a very neat ending. And it was completely set up by the use of the first person plural. Cool.

There was one passage in the book that caused me to laugh out loud, and for the life of me, I can’t remember where it was. Did anyone else run into any episodes that made them laugh out loud? Or LOL as the parlance goes hereabouts?




message 3: by Ruth (last edited Aug 15, 2008 10:18AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth I wanted to like this book, Steve, if only because you nominated it and I’ve spent many happy and profitable hours in the past reading in tandem with you.

But it just didn’t work for me. To vault directly to the ending, that in particular let me down. Big fat gimmick. If that was one of the main purposes for the use of the first person plural, then I felt somewhat like the victim of a shaggy dog joke.

At first, the first person plural seemed fine with me, but ultimately I think what it did was, instead of involving me as a participant, as part of the “we,” it distanced me from the book. On reflection, I think it was because we are never given a glimpse of who the “I” is behind the “we.” When someone says “we,” it is an individual speaking even if in so doing they represent the collective “we.” I never had a feeling that things were different here, that “we” was a true collective voice, yet I was never given the slightest glimpse of who this representative of the collective “we” is. Instead, for me, the voice of “we” became an impersonal outside observer instead of a participant in the story.

At first I thought the book was funny, well, amusing anyway. But I tired of all the smartass wisecracks. I can see where Ferris made an effort to go deeper, with his implied criticism of Cubicle World, and with the section on Lynn’s cancer. These were the only things that redeemed the book in my eyes, but nevertheless I thought they were weak.

It may be that I am the wrong person to critique this book, having never been exposed to this world at all. There may have been all sorts of cues I was missing. Nevertheless, I thought it was a young man’s book, similar to many young men’s art debuts, so interested in surface form, in trying to be hip or beyond hip, that the bubble is stretched so thin it breaks with only a faint pop.



message 4: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Brassawe We're in agreement somewhat on one thing, Ruthie. I too found the sections on Lynn's cancer to be strong, albeit stronger than you did. And there was no humor in them at all.

My favorite section in that regard is from page about page 218 to page 230 in the hard bound edition when first Martin is probably not going to go with her, then he is going to go with her, and then finally she goes without him. That was a heart-rending section for me because I thought it captured so well the irrational ups and downs of a person facing cancer early on. Admittedly, that's from the outside looking in. I've been closer to Martin's position than I ever have Lynn's position. Maybe someone whose been in Lynn's position can tell us whether this captured something of the experience.


Sherry I really liked it. I have been part of this world--not lately--but I think he captured a a lot. The only other book that I have read with this POV was The Virgin Suicides by Eugenides. I liked this one better. I thought it had heart.


message 6: by Stephen (last edited Aug 15, 2008 02:39PM) (new)

Stephen Brassawe I found Mr. Ferris to be charmingly adept at the witty phrase, too. For example,

In reality, when we heard Jim was let go we went down to his cubicle, miserable with happiness that he had been chosen over us.

Even better when the subject is Marcia saying mean things to Jim Jackers,

What was refreshing about Marcia was that she said these things to his face, but unlike Yop, they weren’t eternal damnations. They were just momentary expressions of her exasperation—things we wanted to say, but we lacked the courage—and they always resulted in mad fits of compunction.

I have suffered from mad fits of compunction my entire life, but I did not know what they were called until now.




message 7: by Ruth (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth I suppose everyone reacts to cancer in a different way, Steve. All I can say is that my reaction to the news that I had breast cancer was the polar opposite of Lynn's. (Not our Lynn, the one in the book.)


message 8: by Al (new) - rated it 2 stars

Al I read this book a while ago (well over a year) and was also disappointed by the hilarity-hype. At first, it was very funny - Ferris captured that world incredibly well (I have had careers in advertising and dot-com related enterprises). I loved the phrase "walking Spanish" and a lot of the petty and mundane office observations were spot on - the whole chair issue was great.

But overall I agree with Ruth - this felt like a young man's debut that fell short. However, there were some parts that were surprisingly touching - I was moved at times by the character with the missing daughter and the man who saved the totem pole that was willed to him.

I haven't yet gotten to the author's short story in the New Yorker - I would read something else by him. but I would not feel the need to rush to it.


Conny I agree very much with Ruth on this book. I just was unable to get into it. I did not find it amusing at all.

I read an edition that had a little appendix for people reading this for a bookclub, but even this reading guide did not help me to appreciate this book any better.

One of the things I really disliked were that none of the characters appeared to me to be very strong. They seemed all interchangeable to me, and I was not interested in any of them. All of them were flat and unreal to me.

I might have overlooked something, and I hope that I will think differently about the book by the end of this discussion.


Sherry I thought there were some very strong characters. Lynn Mason and Joe Pope were the strongest. The way the book was written did not allow you to get to know them particularly well, but I think that was intentional. I think Ferris meant for the "we" to be sliding along on top of things, like you might if you were in the office and just observing.

I had no preconceptions about how hilarious it was going to be, so I wasn't disappointed. I did chuckle aloud often, but I thought the humor was always tinged with a bit of melancholy. The whole thing was very visual to me, and I could see it playing out it my head. I really enjoyed it.


Barbara I listened to an audiobook of this and Recorded Books betrayed me by distributing an abridged version so I may not have an accurate picture of the book. However, with that caveat, I will say that I thought Ferris did an excellent job with the first person plural point of view. I haven't worked in exactly that situation, but I'm a teacher in an early childhood special education program and we team a lot on evaluations, etc. He conveyed that sense of operating and reacting as a unit with little individual quirks popping out of the mass. It also seemed appropriate for the section on Lynn Mason to move into a first person singular pov and it made a good break from the rest. I also liked the subtlety of the humor, perhaps because I didn't expect hilarity.

The negative for me was that I never really fully engaged with the people or the situation. It's possible that I need more of an individual point of view.


message 12: by Lena (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lena I agree with those who felt the humor was oversold. I found the tone to be far more melancholic than anything else. Yes, there were some witty lines, but not enough to override this atmosphere.

I laughed out loud exactly twice. I don't remember the first one, Steve, but the second came when he was discussing the "Yop and Woo" tribe. As I was laughing, though, I was also thinking, "How is any non-Midwesterner unfamiliar with the Kickapoo tribe going to get that joke?"


Wilhelmina Jenkins Apparently I enjoyed this book more than most posters. The humor, for me, was not the fall-on-the-floor-laughing kind, but more the human kind. I'm guessing that the book was marketed as hilarious because of the number of workplace comedies that are currently popular. I suspect that the plan was to attract that audience to this book.

This book , for me, was about people who were becoming untethered. They knew that layoffs were coming, they were barely working, but yet they didn't want to leave voluntarily and face uncertain prospects. So they behave largely like children without enough work to keep themselves occupied - they gossip, they play tricks on one another, etc. I thought that the lack of individuality in the workers was one of the things that Ferris did very well. The workers themselves could barely differentiate between their colleagues - they are constantly trying to identify one another by some quirk or habit.

I felt their collective loss of direction keenly. So much of the way that we perceive ourselves depends on our work. We (and I did like the 1st person plural viewpoint) easily become lost when that part of our identity is taken away.


message 14: by Jane (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane I liked this book quite a lot, and I wasn't expecting it to be funny, so it worked for me.

**********Full of spoilers*****************

One of the characters that I liked was Tom Mota. At times, he could be a real jerk, but at other times, he was a kind person. I loved the scene where he climbed up on the billboard and painted over the photo of the missing girl so that her mother wouldn't have to look at it every day. Tom also intervenes when the office workers take turns to spy on Janine (the woman whose daughter is killed) at McDonald's. He asks Joe to make them stop and Joe does.

I have a question about the section about Lynn. Is it really "true'? It is Hank's story, we find out at the end. Is there really a Martin? Lynn died of ovarian cancer, not breast cancer, we find out. I had the feeling that Hank made the whole thing up when Lynn didn't go to the hospital the first time. It is his explanation of why she is at the office instead of in the hospital.

Jane


message 15: by Ruth (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth Jane, that's brilliant! Never crossed my mind. So now I want to pose a question to all of you. If Jane's right, what was the purpose of this fictitious story of Hank's? How does it change the book?


Jessica I finished this book a couple of days ago, and I loved the humor in it - it captures that "you drive me crazy, but I still kind of like you anyway" feeling that's so common with the people you see every day. It definitely reminded me of the way I feel towards my own colleagues.

The ending especially captured the nature of office friendships perfectly - they are so important to your day-to-day existence at work, but when you leave a job, they vanish. Ferris gets at that ephemeral network in a really elegant way, I think.


message 17: by Gail (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gail I thought the book was kind of poignant, rather than laugh-out-loud funny. I did find the scene where the chair was painstakingly taken apart to be quite comical, though.

Perhaps Ferris has suffered from the hype for this book: we're led to expect more than is there. That said, I thought this was a great first effort and hope he'll write more as he matures and not be a "One-book Wonder."




Wilhelmina Jenkins Oh, I love that analysis, Jane! It makes perfect sense! And then, of course, he can move on with his novel from there. Excellent!

I now like the book even more than before.


Mary Anne I did like this book. I always avoid book flaps and back covers, so apparently I was not over influenced by the hype. The sense of voice was so strong for me, that I thought it could have been written by someone in my office. It really appealed to the cynic in me. I mean, is it at all far-fetched that an ad agency would be competing for a contract to market caffienated bottled water?
I felt that Benny was the glue to this book. Everyone listened to his stories, and he seemed to be everywhere.


Sherry I want to read Hank's book. That middle part (Lynn's story) was my favorite.


message 21: by Ruth (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth Mine, too, Sherry. Perhaps it's because I felt a real person in there, not a construct of clever cracks and observations.


message 22: by Jane (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane Jess,

I agree that Ferris captured the quality of work relationships. It is pretty much all on the surface. I remember when I was teaching that retired colleagues would come back, and those of us still working would not really have time to talk for long. I went back once after I retired to donate some books to my department, and I felt like an outsider even though I had just retired the previous spring. I think that this book has a lot to say.

Jane


Graceann I thought this book was marvelous and, yes, hilarious. I laughed out loud early and often, and was constantly nudging my husband to read funny bits out loud to him.

While I found Then We Came to the End to be just about perfect, I can thoroughly understand the disparity of view. It is for a VERY specific audience. If you haven't worked in an office - more accurately, if you haven't worked in an office with this type of atmosphere - this simply won't be funny or interesting to you. Someone indicated that they had problems because the characters were faceless and interchangeable. That's because office workers ARE faceless and interchangeable. There is no difference from any one of us to any other of us. We are identical cogs in an extremely large, impersonal machine. We clock in, we count down until 5pm (if we're lucky enough to get out at 5pm) and then we escape. We need the office work, and we are relieved when someone else is fired instead of us, but we loathe the mechanics of it nevertheless. I can tell you that the nicest people worked in my old offices. When they were gone a week, they were forgotten. I'm sure that was true of me when I left, as well. It's painful, or should be, to come to the conclusion that the work done simply doesn't matter and that we are interchangeable, but the sad fact is that it is true. Nobody in 100 years is going to look back and say "wow, you know, that Graceann sure typed a heckuva form letter - she changed the World." It occurred to me one day last week when I was putting together information for a bid, that I could no longer remember the names of my co-workers from the job I held two years ago (and I'm speaking of my office manager and the woman at the next desk). I don't even know if I'd recognize them on the street.

My thoughts on the book at large, taken from notes written as I was reading. This is full of spoilers, if you're still reading the novel:

Boy, can I relate to the description of office life in the introduction. This is JUST what my experience was.
- stolen articles from desks
- resenting the hours caged in the office (I never left the office at lunchtime because I was legitimately afraid that I wouldn't come back at 1pm)
- the VERY occasional days when all goes well
- the company shirt that everyone owns but nobody wants to be seen wearing (I used to have a drawer full of them - they got used as scrub rags when I left my last home. There was some real satisfaction in using them for that purpose.)
- days crawling - except weekends. Painfully accurate.

Petty arguments over who owns what ("my legitimate chair!") So hilarious and so true. I remember when I first started at my last job. My desk didn't have a chair so I borrowed one from an empty desk. I was sitting there for MAYBE five minutes when a secretary came to me to say "that's MY Chair!" Well, actually, your chair is at your desk, and nothing in this place is actually YOURS, anyhow.

Hating someone and worrying that the reason you hate them is not that they're a jerk but that you're racist. There was a paralegal I used to work with - she was a flaming incompetent who happened to be a minority. When she was called on mistakes or bad behavior, she always played the race card. I could definitely relate to workers' feelings about Karen Woo - except that Karen actually has the chops.

"'Creative creatives creating creative creative,' a use of the English language just too absurd to contemplate." Do you have any idea how much time lawyers spend coming up with just such nonsense? I didn't realize that law and advertising had so much in common until I read this book.

The sequence with Lynn, Martin and the blindfold was very sweet and moving. I totally understand the fear - if she doesn't confront the hospital, it isn't "real." A great love of my life had exactly that attitude about diabetes. He determined that if he didn't get his blood checked, he didn't have it. Total nonsense of course, and he almost died. I do believe that Lynn actually had cancer - a lot of women who start with breast cancer die of a different one later on, sadly. I lost my beloved Sally Dumaux (an amazing author, mentor and friend) in just this way.

It's no accident that the majority of this book is set in the halcyon days leading up to 9/11. The economy was already getting dubious, but 9/11 pushed it over and employers *loved* having "the terrorists" as an excuse to trim fat from their payroll. My review was barely six weeks after 9/11, and I was given a minimal raise with that event as an excuse. Six weeks after THAT, the lawyers who were partners in the firm were given the biggest bonuses in the firm's history. That money came directly from the paychecks of the underlings.

FIVE YEARS LATER:

Tying in the endings to Lynn's and Tom's stories was brilliant. Beautifully done.

I love the Marcia's haircut, which was new in 2001 and caused much comment, was "dated" at the end of the book.

Other people have commented on the random kindnesses more eloquently than I could have - the bit about the billboard and about the mother of the murdered child sitting at McDonalds were written in a particularly skillful way.

I found this one to be a winner in a big way. Having said that, it is NOT a universal story. You have to come from a very specific set of experiences in order to appreciate and enjoy it.


Sherry Graceanne, I'm so glad you liked it that much. I think people who haven't been in an office situation could still appreciate it, if they would actually believe that stuff like that happens. You're here to tell us how realistic the book is--unfortunately. I was in an office worker years ago--in the 70s and 80s. The last job I had was as an in-house temporary worker in an insurance company. Since my husband was an executive at that company, I don't think I got the full-blown office experience. People probably toned down their natures around me. I did find one person (she was my boss) who became my best friend. But I think that is unusual. Neither of us was typical.

But all this personal stuff aside, Ferris really captured a bizarro side of American culture.


Barbara Graceann, great note. You really increased my appreciation of what Ferris did.


Graceann Thanks, Sherry. It is sadly accurate, though I will say that nobody ever dressed up in a clown costume and came back to torment us after being fired (probably because the doors are all locked and you can't get in unless someone from within the firm escorts you).

Yes, I agree that it can be appreciated even if you didn't work in this kind of office, but I've seen some *scathing* reviews (at Amazon, for instance) and got a deep dose of pity from someone on one of my book groups who loathed Then We Came to the End with every fibre of her being. She's going to be flummoxed when she finds out I loved it, and she's the kind of person who thinks you're stupid if you don't agree with her in every instance.

I find reading these books to be more interesting than the ones that are universally beloved. If there's that much variance in readers' enjoyment, then there's going to be a particularly good discussion, and plenty to think about. I was a bit concerned, but so glad that I let the negatives deter me from this one.

I happened to meet my best friend at the office, as well, but we did our bonding on the weekends, not at the water cooler. There simply wasn't time. When I first started as a legal secretary, each attorney had their own secretary. By the time I retired, the standard was three attorneys to a secretary, and in some cases, five. I've never been happier to walk away from something as I have that.


Mary Anne Some marvelous comments, Graceann. You have mentioned some of the very reasons I liked this book. To me, the characters seemed so very real. In fact, in the early parts of the book, I felt that it was secretly written by someone in my office!

Another thing that was so real: today's urgent project gets completely reversed, and is now twice as urgent.



SPOILERS:

The part that got me lol was when Carl, when being dropped off at work by his physician wife, had to call her on her cell phone to get her attention even though he was sitting right next to her. She thought he was nuts. Then he stripped off his clothes, and proved that she was right.
I loved the way Carl turned out to be so happy and successful at the end of the book. That was not a predictable outcome.

I also have some very good friends from my office. Although, ironically, I did not always see eye to eye with these same friends in the office. I like to think that if something big happened in my life post-work (like Hank's book reading) that a few stalwarts would show up for me. Let's not forget that Hank was the character who copied library books on the copier then pretended to read work papers all day long. Sound lovely, but in reality, a practice that would get him fired in most any office.



Sherry So that was Hank? I had forgotten that. As someone said, everyone blended together. Obviously one of the points. So was Hank the "me" of "you and me"?


message 29: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Brassawe Gosh, I loved that comment by Jane. It has given me much to think about. I have to come back to that later.

Graceann, years ago I worked in a large firm as an associate. I was struck by the similarities with this ad agency. Their projects were our cases. And there were certain character types that one recognized. In any event, I'm sure you're correct. My experience greatly enhanced my appreciation of this book.

Great note, Graceann.

By the way I loved that fact that there really were 0 grams of Lastive Acid in those cookies. That is where I did laugh audibly.





message 30: by Gail (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gail Jane, thank you for posting note 22. I retired a year ago March, and recently couldn't think of my last principal's name for about 2 hours. I was beginning to think I was totally odd.

I met my best friend at work (also met my husband at work, oddly enough), but that was an exception of inverted twin souls meeting by chance. I keep in touch with about five people, and barely remember the rest...and I'm sure they barely remember me. Sad, ins't it; you spend so much time with these folks but really it's all on the surface. Hmmmm....


message 31: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Brassawe I intended to comment on Jane's number 22, also, and neglected to. My experience with former colleagues in the large firm is the same. Once one is outside the group, one really is outside the group and forgotten. There is something about human nature that makes this so--something Darwinian.


Conny Graceann, thank you very much for your comments. I do not think that I will like this book any better, but it is in line with the discussions my husband and I had about the book.
He worked as a "corporate slave", as he calls it, for several years and he hated it very much. He was the one laughing out loud and chuckling consistently. And he thought that people like me with only little experience in offices like that might not enjoy the book as much.




message 33: by Stephen (last edited Aug 27, 2008 01:21PM) (new)

Stephen Brassawe Jane, I continue to ponder your question concerning the section about Lynn that you pose in No. 14 above. That section got my attention, too, which is the reason I specifically mentioned it in No. 4 above. It is so distinct from the rest of the book. However, I did not notice the angle involving Hank that you did. How could I have missed that?

I don’t know if your explanation of it is right or wrong. Perhaps this is just an excerpt from Hank’s novel that is dropped right in the middle of this book for no other reason than that it is an excerpt from Hank's novel. If it had been put after our discovery that Hank had written a novel, we would immediately spot it for what it is—or what I think it is, anyway.




message 34: by Jane (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane Steve,

There were two reasons that I thought that Lynn's story was really Hank's novel. 1) Lynn died of ovarian cancer. According to my friend who is an oncologist, if you contract breast cancer and it spreads to other parts of your body, it is still considered breast cancer. 2) If you read the lines that Hank read at his reading, they are the same as the "Lynn" section of the novel.

That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.

Jane


message 35: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Brassawe I think you should stick to it, Jane. It is something that I wish had occurred to me as I was reading this book.


Wilhelmina Jenkins I second that, Jane. Your comment added another whole level to the book, for me.



message 37: by Jane (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jane Thanks Mina and Steve,

Most of the time, I am the one who is wondering, "Why didn't I see that?" It is good that I gave some of you something to think about.

Jane


message 38: by Ruth (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth Absolutely, Jane.


Sara Grace Oh dear, here I am posting too little, too late.

I think I'm off our book cycle by about 15 days. (I will try and get through Wind-up Bird faster.

I did want to comment on Jane's proposal that the Lynn section was merely Henry's novel spliced in.

I agree that that would be a pretty interesting turn, but I'm not sure how it works with the action of the rest of the novel. We are lead to believe that Lynn did actually have cancer because she admits to Joe that she has it and we have a later scene where everyone is visiting her in the hospital. I think the ovarian cancer killing her is meant to toy with our emotional stability. Sort of a "well, the thing you thought might get her didn't, but something else certainly did." I assumed she recovered from the breast cancer only to die of ovarian cancer at a later date. Oh the irony. It is interesting that he chose to give her two types of "women's cancers" - for lack of a better word. Not some other type of cancer.

Now this certainly doesn't unseat the idea that Lynn's story is really Henry's attempt to humanize the people he works with, and that it just happens to come in the middle of this other novel. It explains a lot - why the different perspective, why it feels so much more real & human...

Question: Does anyone remember if Henry was still working at the agency the day that Lynn was supposed to have her surgery?

Why have this middle story be written as a story within a story (constructed by a character)? ...

Come to think of it we (the narrator and reader) are supposed to be participants in the story as well, so maybe having that next layer isn't as out of place as it might seem.

So going with Jane's suggestion my new working theory (arrived at a few seconds ago) is that he is using the middle story to show the power of individuals to construct stories that humanize or dehumanize the people around them. (Henry as the humanizing force and the narrator/us as the dehumanizers.)

Any thoughts?

(Also, I didn't really like the novel. I thought it was harsh without having much heart to make up for it. But I have no illusions that the author intended anything else. Made me wish I was reading a Vonnegut novel instead. Commentary with characters.)

Cheers,
- Sara Grace


Molly I don't think I belonged to this Group when you were discussing this book. I just finished it a few weeks ago and enjoyed it quite a bit. I too thought it would be a different type of book with laugh out loud moments throughout. It was more of a lot of chuckles for me. I could completely relate to all the silly petty things "we" do to each other in the cubicle world seeing as how I have worked in that environment for 20 years. I also liked the "we" style - it made me feel more and more a part of the group of characters in the book. And I really enjoyed the ending. I felt the book was an excellent portrait of all different kinds of loss and how we deal with them - thus Then We Came To The End.


message 41: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Brassawe And now the book has become hyper-relevant:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st...

See paragraph nine.


back to top