December 3, 2007

Then We Came To The End

by Joshua Ferris

An engaging, likable novel about working in a Chicago ad agency. The agency is located a few blocks from my Mother's apartment, and my mother worked in a Chicago ad agency right near there, too, in a brief strategic hiatus between leaving New York magazines and moving up to newspapers. Ferris gets it right, and he writes about work, and he's funny without being silly.

Gradually, it sneaks up on you that this is a curious formal experiment: the entire novel, except for one chapter, is written in first person plural. The exceptional chapter is third person, and if you think that's a curious lapse then you're properly set up for the closing twist. It's quite a trick to generate suspense through a strange formal device, but Ferris pulls it off.

The book is being reviewed everywhere. I never go anywhere in distant cities without a book in hand, and so when I showed up for a lunch with a hot Web CEO in SF and he wondered what the hell I was carrying a book for, I explained it's the novel of the moment. I'm not convinced this will hold up to Great Novel expectations, but if you're hoping for a serious and thoughtful little story about work today, executed by a writer who is paying attention, then this will cheer your day.