Who we are at the office

The Office has the realities of cubicle life covered, right? And after so many disappointing fictional treatments of the subject, the last thing we need is a debut novelist throwing his 375-page effort into the ring?

I get where you’re coming from, but hold on a minute: Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End is a stunning first novel. It’s as funny in its way as Ricky Gervais on office life, but considerably more empathetic than the hit BBC show. (Someone else made essentially these same observations, in fewer words, on Friday, when this post was sitting around in draft form, so you know I’m not blowing hot air.)

I reviewed Then We Came to the End in the weekend’s Newsday. Here’s an excerpt:

“Work,” said Oscar Wilde, “is the refuge of those who have nothing better to do.” Many of us who spend weekdays looking busy in cubicles agree with this sentiment, but only as it relates to our co-workers — not our friends, but those other, pathetic characters leading such empty lives.

After all, we are nothing like the guy who wears the same company polo shirt for weeks on end. We bear no resemblance to the woman who passes her lunch break sitting in a pool of plastic balls at McDonald’s. If we were a middle manager, we certainly would not roll our bicycle into our office each morning and lock the front tire to the frame as though “beset on all sides by thieves and barbarians.” And yet, in the world of the office, we too are defined by some eccentricity. We are every bit as cartoonish to our co-workers as they are to us.

Joshua Ferris’ brilliant and incredibly funny debut novel, “Then We Came to the End,” lays bare the strange interconnectedness of human cogs in the corporate machine. The dot-com boom has already turned to bust when the story opens, and the ad agency where our heroes work is laying them off one by one. Milling around in cubicles, taking advantage of increasingly infrequent free morning bagels, they have almost no work to do but plenty of time to talk about each other — and about Lynn, their boss, who may or may not have cancer.

The Elegant Variation ran the book’s opening late last year.


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