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370 of 401 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What is "Then We Came To The End" trying to say?
Despite widespread critical acclaim, this book has gotten mixed reviews from customers.

I understand it, and people who hated it aren't wrong. I'd like to address these criticisms later, so please stick with me.

The positive reviews I've read about "Then We Came To The End" are mostly spot-on -- but without giving it away, they don't consistently...
Published on April 20, 2007 by David Kusumoto

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62 of 74 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I Thought I'd Never Get To The End!
Is Joshua Ferris a terrible writer? Of course not. Are the people who loved this book insane? Far from it! And not only do I heartily admire Mr. Ferris for completing a novel and getting it published - something I probably will never achieve for myself - I also respect anyone who could finish this book and find an inspiring message within. Reviews are subjective, and all...
Published on August 1, 2008 by T. Stevens


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370 of 401 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What is "Then We Came To The End" trying to say?, April 20, 2007
By 
David Kusumoto (San Diego, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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Despite widespread critical acclaim, this book has gotten mixed reviews from customers.

I understand it, and people who hated it aren't wrong. I'd like to address these criticisms later, so please stick with me.

The positive reviews I've read about "Then We Came To The End" are mostly spot-on -- but without giving it away, they don't consistently convey WHY this amusing, touching and ultimately tender book soars - at least for me.

It's the ending.

The last 20 pages of Joshua Ferris's book twisted and turned me in every direction. But it's THE VERY LAST LINE -- (DON'T CHEAT) -- that catapulted me into the universe with the most glorious twist of all.

Many writers searching for something to leave behind that feels ironic or profound -- I'm sorry -- in my view, they just don't know how to end their books. I say this as a consumer who's a voracious reader. Their last pages feel quietly pretentious -- or a little too contemplative or optimistic. Even great literature - especially prize-winning literature - can be so tortuous in construction or over-reaching in their efforts to convey some grand message -- that they feel like work, with sentences so mind-numbing that you need a dictionary and a level of concentration akin to taking a bar exam.

"Then We Came To The End" may not be considered great literature, but it's euphoric. It's wonderful. It underscores that nebulous "thing" that makes the office dull and robotic -- but also vital and vibrant, essential to our lives. The book makes me question, admire and dismiss -- all at once -- why I put up with so much " s***," why I find great satisfaction in my work on one day and why I hate everything the next. The masochistic, sadistic and triumphal feelings I have about work -- and about the "back stories" of my colleagues around me -- there's something weirdly magnetic about all of it -- even as I complain, complain, complain.

In my view, the simplicity (or difficulty) associated with "Then We Came To The End" really depends on whether the material hits you in a way that's familiar and funny, not dull or indulgent. It can do both. And as others have stated, the author's use of the first person plural "we" -- in every chapter but one -- can't be overstated. It's miraculous when it works -- because it's so difficult to pull off without fumbling or confusing the reader. When it does work (as it did for me) - when it's infused with content so beguiling and familiar -- you're no longer aware of the author's writing style, which should be the dream achievement of all great writers. Reading becomes effortless as the clock melts away.

Joshua Ferris recently said in an interview -- and at a recent book signing -- that the thing intriguing about every office is this: Even if you don't know everyone very well or at all, EVERYONE has an OPINION about YOU and everyone else.

This may feel like a universal nugget of common sense, but you're not really aware of it until it unfurls between the lines and chapters of this book. The beginning of most chapters include sub-chapter "headlines" which tease you about what's to come. Soon, boredom and irreverence are transformed into amusing and almost affectionate feelings -- about everything that happens.

The biggest criticism about "Then We Came to the End" is the skeletal development of its characters. Well, when I got to the last line on the last page, it became more clear to me why this MUST be the case. Every character -- in every chapter but one -- is presented as a "type."

But this feels intentional. The collective "we" is forced to guess what each character is thinking. And like most offices, "we" can only know as much as what we SEE or HEAR. The most trivial information becomes precious and titanic. And the results can be tragic AND darkly funny. The collective "we" can't read minds, so we draw our own conclusions to ridiculous lengths. In the end, we have sketches. And this feels right. How many of our co-workers become life-long friends with whom we trust to share our most intimate secrets? One or two if we're lucky. It takes work - AT WORK - to get beneath the surface of our colleagues. Almost everyone comes off thinly drawn because the collective "we" is forever deprived a complete picture of WHAT and HOW each person thinks.

For example, I know people in my office, but some remain a mystery. When I get together with colleagues, we trade stories about everyone. When one guy leaves the room, we might talk about him. Or not. Most of our stories are sprinkled with guesses and presumptions. Who's deviant? Who's got the gun collection? Who's the lush? Who's got the wild double life? "Someone" might know, but "we" as a group don't.

I would say that "Then We Came to the End" is an observational and episodic novel -- subject to wide interpretation -- because of a literary device that seldom works in most novels. If you're looking for "fleshed out" characters and profound themes, you won't find them here. This book isn't for you and this is not a criticism. Your complaints are justified. I believe expectations matter. A novel so widely acclaimed that disappoints will cause anyone to say out loud, "well, this was all hype" - or - "man oh man, those critics are so out of touch with me."

I still believe Ferris has captured the delicate balance between satire and brutal truth, the latter in ways which sound superficial and cliché, but woven in his book as they do, rang true for me.

There's something strange about that colleague you regard with derision or fear on one level, but with admiration and respect the next. And what about work itself? Why is our identity and self-image defined by it? Why does it have to matter more than just a way to put bread on the table? These questions went through my head as I turned each page.

So yeah, I know it's still early. But in my view, "Then We Came To The End" is the most remarkable debut of 2007. While it's difficult to imagine Joshua Ferris topping this, I've no doubt he has a tremendous future and a unique voice that will always feel relevant.
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81 of 88 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mornings without Promise., April 6, 2007
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This is an excellent first novel about the employees of that most storied of institutions, an advertising agency. It is simultaneously touching, amusing, and engrossing. It is not, however, the hilarious laugh riot or biting satire that some would claim. Perhaps the sprit of the novel was best summed up in its second sentence, "Our mornings lacked promise." This is a story related by an anonymous narrator about a group of individuals working on the creative staff of a nameless mid-sized Chicago ad agency and it is entirely office centric. The reader sees the people as one would see one's own co-workers in an office setting with only occasional references to homes and families.

As the 21st Century begins, the billings of the agency decline precipitously and being fired or fear of being fired soon becomes a dark undercurrent that runs through everything else that happens in offices and cubicles of the agency's creative staff. As the novel progresses one learns more and more about the quirks and mannerism these hapless folks. Their humanity becomes quite real. If the reader will allow it, you can find yourself actually caring about the individuals that the narrator tells you about. Those of us that are or were knowledge workers will have a haunting sense of familiarity about the people and situations described in this book.

Joshua Ferris has an ear for dialogue and an understanding of emotions that is quite impressive. This reviewer likes his style and the way he structured this novel.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book, February 22, 2007
An office dalliance leads to impending maternity. A coworker mourns her child's death. A corporate best-girl refuses to face issues of her own mortality until she finds herself turning from it minute by minute. A shattered individual shares the Emerson quotes that keep his quirkily heroic persona together with whomever he sees may be similarly troubled. Another tries to make his way free of friendship, turning away from even admitting witness of non-official office events.

Meanwhile, the rest of the office gets together to kill time, compete for first-discovery rights on information, try to make sense of the world through group consensus, and keep their creative saws sharpened in the dot-com downturn.

I love Then We Came to the End. It is a wonderfully sympathetic novel of work relationships. Just what should "work" mean to a person? What attachments, what level of attachments, what kind of caring, is normal on the job? And isn't it almost too painfully obvious how frail and silly anyone we know is, really? This is a wonderfully real take on office life, exhibiting a refreshingly well-grounded, sympathetic view of multiple office characters.

The narration exhibits a kind of sympathetic ambivalence in its examination of a working social group. In a world where so many colorful characters are written off as "crazy," Ferris patiently gets to motives. The narrator, written in first-person plural, thinks and feels the same as thinking people assessing confusing situations in this modern world. One can feel admiration and jealousy at once, one can cop to the noble and the prurient.

It's a fine examination of what people think and do; and what it means to take action; what it means to witness and to participate.

[...]
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68 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant first novel...Brilliant Novel, February 19, 2007
No matter how much we love the established names, the Roths, the Pynchons, the McCarthy's, nothing is quite so exciting as a new author. With that excitement, however, comes the peril of disappointment. Ferris does not disappoint. One gets the feeling upon reading this book that a new but permanent voice is being added to the American literary scene, and that we are lucky to have a book like this on our shelves.

Yes, it is written in the first-person plural, from the perspective of an ad agency, and yes it is laugh-out-loud funny. But the style is no gimmick--it reinforces the subtle cultural commentary offered by the book: a message leavened by the humor and delivered with the lightest of touches. This book is the full package. Ignore it at your own risk.
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62 of 74 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I Thought I'd Never Get To The End!, August 1, 2008
Is Joshua Ferris a terrible writer? Of course not. Are the people who loved this book insane? Far from it! And not only do I heartily admire Mr. Ferris for completing a novel and getting it published - something I probably will never achieve for myself - I also respect anyone who could finish this book and find an inspiring message within. Reviews are subjective, and all I can say is that I really tried to like this book, but after reading page after page, word after word, my will to live slowly drained from my body, and my inner voice screamed, "Just Give Up Already!" But I didn't give up. But I didn't enjoy it either. I kept waiting for the agony to lessen and the uplifting experience to begin. You know it's bad (or should I say, WE know it's bad) when there's only 30 pages to go, and we still have to force ourselves to pick it up. Inside joke there! See I was paying attention. So my advice to anyone who's made it halfway through this book and loves it, is to keep going because you'll probably love it even more. But if you get to the halfway point and start debating whether to finish the whole thing, or to move on - MOVE ON! Really. Cause if you don't like it by page 190, you won't like it by page 385. Things I didn't like: The characters were so forgettable, that I think even the author had trouble keeping them straight, which may explain why he kept referring to them by their first and last names, even in dialogue. Even though none of the (numerous) characters shared a first name. I thought that was completely unrealistic. Whoever refers to their co-workers by first and last name in speech? "Oh Martha Jeffers, could you go ask Chris McDonald over there if he has the reports for Fergus Magnusson?" One particular character was called Jim Jackers, and I confess to alleviate the tedium I silently referred to him as Jim J****ss - you know like the MTV inspired movie. Now THAT made me laugh! And there was not much written about their lives outside the office. So I didn't really feel like I had a handle on the characters. Also towards the last quarter of the novel, something happens which I thought was interesting, but then turned out to be more of a red herring. By the very end, when the author talks about what's happened to some of the characters, I knew that had I connected with them, I would have found it moving, but I really didn't care. Kind of like when you go to see a movie and the soundtrack swells up when it wants the audience to cry, but instead you think it's a good time to go get popcorn. How ironic that the title of the book is Then We Came To The End, because I honestly thought I'd never reach the end! The more I read, the further away the ending seemed to get. Like in Poltergeist when the mother is running desperately towards the door, but the faster she runs, the further away the door got. I know this review is long, rambling, unfair and biased. Let me repeat - a lot of people will find much to admire about this book and rightly so. But there are people like me who wish that they could just step into a time machine and put the book back on the shelf and walk away.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like a dark chocolate treat wrapped around your favorite filling, April 1, 2007
My review title reflects one of my ultimate pleasures in life. Another is discovering an outstanding work of fiction and this is my favorite of 2007 so far. It is chock full of flavorful characters, with a middle passage brimming with sadness and pathos, and just overflowing with humor. It melts with pungent dialog, is shot through with ringing tones of truth and real experiences, with a strong finale building to a totally satisfying conclusion (so rare these days when authors seem totally unable to write good endings - don't they teach that skill in school?). I will be sure to savor it more slowly next time.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars We were thrilled...to come to the end, January 10, 2008
By 
Every office has its own share of characters and of war stories reverently repeated and passed down. Sometimes we find our co-workers amusing and brilliant; at other times, they are seem intolerably moronic. It is this dichotomy that Ferris attempts to capture.

The book has a boffo beginning, but the manic amusement soon settles into predictable repartee. We are expecting a light read, so continue to flip pages, jarred only when the ride stops abruptly and catapults us into another story, a profile of an ad agency exec. We are willing to take some risks here, but, alas, the profile is simply another bundle of stereotypes, preventing us from getting a sense of who the character is (her motivations, aspirations, back story) and so, though we know her a little better, we cannot find ourselves caring about her. (Suffice to say that it is almost impossible to care about any of the other stereotypes who populate this book, no matter how horrific or compelling their stories.) We ultimately conclude that this segment truly belonged elsewhere, perhaps in one of the author's earlier attempts to write about ad agencies.

When the profile chapter concludes, the narrative jumps back into the same pattern as the first half, more stereotypes and stories, but without the same level of energy or humor. The last 100 pages or so feel tedious. The denouement--unexpected, perhaps, but not surprising--only serves to reinforce our earlier assessment of that profile chapter.

We once worked for a Michigan Avenue ad agency, and still have powerful recollections of the zany hysteria, histrionics, and backbiting that characterize such an organization. Someday, perhaps, someone will write a bestseller that evokes the unique ambience of the advertising world. This half-baked effort is not that book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fabulous must-read for anyone who's been there, done that!, April 12, 2007
By 
White Hunter (Boston, MA USA) - See all my reviews
If you're a recovering advertising copywriter--as I am--the flashbacks will start on page one and continue through to the end. This is a brilliantly witty, often hilarious but also poignantly painful portrayal of what it's really like in the business. Ferris nails the agency jargon--"turd polishing," the use of "creative" as a noun and "concept" as a verb--perfectly. No one who hasn't been there, done that, and lived through the tensely gossipy, stressed-out atmosphere of a creative department--especially in an agency that's slowly dismembering itself, one limb at a time, with rolling layoffs--could have written this. I can't help wondering whether "Joshua Ferris" is actually the nom de plume of some real-life colleague of mine, and the characters in fact real people I actually worked with (as in the book, most of us are gone now). That's how authentic the portrayals are. But this first-rate novel is accessible to--and enjoyable by--everybody, whether you've worked in the advertising business or not. If you have, you'll probably recognize yourself here, or your friends (and enemies), or your boss, or your former agency. If not, you might not "get" a few things, or believe they're true (trust me--they all are); but you'll still enjoy the book and understand, probably for the first time, that the business isn't just (or even mostly) about concepting the famous (and wonderful) Taster's Choice and "So Easy a Caveman Can Do It" campaigns. Bravo, "Joshua Ferris"! Now, c'mon, your real name is...? This is a splendid novel--the best fiction I've seen since I wrote ads for...well, under the confidentiality agreement I'm not allowed to name any clients. I'd give "Then We Came" ten stars, if the scale went that high. I can't recommend this novel enthusiastically enough.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tongue-in-Cheek but Humanizing Look at the White Collar Office, April 15, 2007
By 
Steve Koss (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Over the past two centuries, great writers have found memorable ways to represent the blessings and curses of a working life. Their subjects have been farmers and fishermen and factory workers, cowhands and cops, salesmen and soldiers. Of all the professions, perhaps none is harder to novelize in a grandly memorable way than that of the office worker, in whatever industry or capacity. Not that some successful authors haven't tried - Joseph Heller's SOMETHING HAPPENED comes to mind, as does Alan Lightman's THE DIAGNOSIS.

White collar office work is apparently so inherently absurd, the only worthwhile approaches are long on ironic humor and short on emotion. Thus we have movies like OFFICE SPACE and the ferociously offbeat HAIKU TUNNEL and BRAZIL, television programs like "The Office," and novels like Max Barry's THE COMPANY and now, Joshua Ferris's THEN WE CAME TO AN END.

Ferris approaches the anesthetized world of office work through an anonymous, Chicago-based advertising agency that is bleeding clients and is on its financial last legs. Layoffs occur periodically, seemingly (and unrealistically) one at a time, with just enough frequency to keep everyone on edge about who will "walk Spanish" next (an inside company joke about how prisoners used to be carried insultingly by the scruff of the neck so their feet couldn't touch the ground). Amidst these fears of firing, a group of mostly white creatives and copy writers grind through their meaningless daily work lives - hanging out in each other's offices telling stories, creating pools on who will be fired next, playing childish pranks, speculating on other people's private or love lives, and cowering over the idea they will be terminated because they took the serial-numbered chair of someone who has already been fired. The author weaves in several sub-plots about a totem pole gifted by a co-worker who dies of cancer, a pro bono project to develop a campaign that will make cancer victims laugh, and a worker whose daughter was kidnapped and later found dead.

Ferris presents most of his characters as fairly pathetic stereotypes: the loner, the storyteller, the workaholic, the sleepy-eyed, slow-witted security guard, guy so desperate to get his job back he keeps working even after he's fired, the guy who returns with a gun, the cancer victim, the woman pregnant by a married coworker, "the black dude ... with the corduroy coat" that no one can remember, and the guy who goes into landscaping after he's fired. Yet anyone who's worked in a large office will recognize these types as quite real, enough so that further consideration suggests that this coterie of white collar creatives is not so far-fetched. Furthermore, just when the reader begins to feel that Ferris has become too condescending, he inserts some effectively humanizing touches. My favorite of these concerned Janine Gorjanc, the grieving mother who retreats to the local McDonald's every lunchtime to bury herself in the plastic ball pit in the children's play area. For a while, she becomes an object of curiosity bordering on derision among her co-workers until they are finally confronted by Janine with her reasons. In response, one of the book's most intriguing characters, Tom Mota, takes it upon himself to whitewash a highway billboard that has continued to advertise the little girl's disappearance long after she has been found dead. Despite repeated pleas to the billboard owner to remove the sign, it had remained on display, a horrific daily reminder of her tragedy that Janine had had to drive past twice a day in her commute to work.

It is impossible to describe THEN WE CAME TO THE END without addressing Ferris's choice of narrative voice, first person plural. The constant use of "we" and "us" is curiously effective, at once pulling the reader in as part of the group and simultaneously distancing us by failing to give the narrator an identity. "We" are "them," but "we" don't know who the "I" actually is or what the "I" actually does. Ferris also tosses in an intriguing story line about the cancer diagnosis of senior executive Lynn Mason, doing so with a po-mo half twist that converts the book into a sort of literary Mobius strip. Yet just like the mathematical Mobius figure, these white collar lives march on mostly uninterrupted, even if in different venues. No matter how sterile and stultifying the work, no matter who puerile or vindictive or striving or small-t tragic the lives of the workers, the white collar world perpetuates itself and carries on unabated.

THEN WE CAME TO AN END is a refreshing take on this world, at times touching and at times tongue-in-cheek. Far more believable in its plot line than Max Barry's THE COMPANY, this book left me reflecting on the Lynn Masons and Janine Gorjancs and Benny Shassburgers and Karen Woos and Marcia Dwyers and Amber Ludwigs and Carl Garbedians and Chris Yops and Hank Nearys of my own white collar life.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an entertaining, fun read, August 1, 2007
By 
This book won't change your life or anything, but how much contemporary fiction really does? Don't mind the reviews from those "in advertising." I don't think this story is designed to resonate only with advertisers or to describe some inside world known only to those in advertising. I think if you have worked an office setting or sat in a cube you will relate, and probably chuckle.

The collective first person does work well, and the lack of chronology adds to the effect that you are a part of this team, getting all the gossip piecemeal from different parties. But it tends to stretch on in the second half of the book where there is less comedy.

I read Microserfs directly ahead of this which proved a good combo. That one set in the lead up to the bubble, this one set after the bubble burst. All in all I would say this was a pleasant first novel, and I did enjoy it.
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Then We Came to the End: A Novel
Then We Came to the End: A Novel by Joshua Ferris (Hardcover - March 1, 2007)
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