I made it to the end, finally. This one I bought last week without forethought is such a disappointment. I do not find it particularly hilarious as is credited by other critics. Rather, it feels so tedious until page two hundred something. But this slightly engaging part only extends no more than 50 pages, I believe. And when it gives me some prospect of the story taking a better shape, it just ends there.
Then We Came To The End features an advertising corporation corrupt with self-professed creative designers and copywriters, but in reality they are just a bunch of slackers, lunatics, and gossip creatures. No doubt the author succeeds in capturing the conventional workplace ecosystem where tittle-tattles thrive, but it becomes disturbing when a novel is built up and almost crammed with ridiculous office episodes like this. It would be pleasant to take in a bit of these, though. Also, if put in a different scenario other than an advertising company, the fiction might be more appealing. (There are a world of jokes, movies, TV series about advertising industry out there far more compelling.) Otherwise, the arrangement is really not of novelty.
The story is unfolded with sporadic talks, gossips, and rumors. Every character has their own version of “truth.” I guess I was sometimes confused and failed to get hold of it. However, this novel grasps the core of humanity: “Talk was like the flu: if it started with one, soon it infected all. But unlike the flu, we couldn’t afford to be left out if something was going around.”—-That’s exactly what runs our society. Anyone could recognize part of himself or herself reading it.
The turmoil in the office is mostly due to fierce downsizing. It was the best and worst of time for the company because the condition inspires any desperate breadwinner’s strength to work extra hard and cling to, if not climb up, the daunting ladder. But it still gets you nowhere if you are reluctant to step over cannon fodders under the system. This is the part I like about the novel. Slaving under this profit-oriented machine, people hardly establish genuine friendship, if any, it is solely the temporary camaraderie formed when trying to force out a sucker in order to preserve one’s job. It is out of collective anxiety to do so.
Though Joshua Ferris won acclaim for this debut novel, I do not recommend reading it. Whoever holds a grudge against bosses and colleagues and suffers from the fear of being shitcanned may better relate to its depiction. Perhaps years later when I start my venture in the workplace, I might be able to appreciate its biting parody of everyday life in the office.
*Chinese edition is available now with title translated as 《然後，我們就Bye了》.