This whole office life is hell theme has played out for a few decades now. My earliest memories are from the late 1980s and Dilbert. Even as a college kid I found Dilbert kind of funny despite my lack of experience in a corporate environment. Fast forward more than a decade to the UK version of the office. Now that was pretty damn funny stuff. Side splitting funny actually. Around the same time came the American movie Office Space. Awesome, I loved it – that scene where they destroy the printer with gangsta rap in the background is one of the greatest scenes ever in American film. Then we had the US version of the office, which hooked me early on. However, about half way through the second season I got bored with it and quit watching.
Was I just jaded by the office life is hell genre? Actually, this occurred at a point when I quit watching just about all comedic, reality, or dramatic TV, so maybe there were larger forces at work. Whatever the case, I wasn’t going to pass up Then We Came to the End, despite its linkage to the office life is hell genre and my apparent discouragement with it. Heck, it was getting killer reviews everywhere and the NYT called it one of the top 10 books of 2007. So here we are. It’s a day after finishing it and despite struggling early on, I ended up liking it.
It’s a story about a Chicago advertising firm set during the tech bust. Cushy marketing jobs at the Michigan Avenue based firm are being trimmed and the best way for the employees to deal with the stress (and lack of work) is to gossip, play jokes, and complain. There is a host of kooky characters and the situations they get themselves into are described in great detail by Ferris. The weird and humorous stuff Ferris comes up with is very creative and the depths in which he describes them is amazing, but early on it feels like recycled office life is hell material.
Eventually though, there are strong moments and solid themes that raise this book above the standard material out there today, which invariably degrades into making fun of the stupid boss and casting all consultants as evil beasts. Ferris goes beyond this tired act.
** PLOT KILLERS FOLLOW **
The interlude (I didn’t come up with that term) about Lynn Mason (the boss) and her last night before surgery to remove a cancerous tumor is well done. Ferris changes the perspective and the chapter title styling and just launches into it. I really couldn’t tell what was going on, but I couldn’t put it down. It held my attention well. And the way Ferris linked up this interlude with the rest of the book was smooth, really smooth. The interlude was actually a book written by one of the characters, a reading of which brings the whole crew together at the end. Great stuff.
The other memorable scene occurred when Joe (the #2 guy) tells the story of his trip to jail to visit Tom Mota (the office villain who everyone feared would one day come back to blow away the floor after being let go). Joe fired Tom. Not because Tom wrote FAG on Joe’s wall (nobody was really sure who did this). Nope, Joe fired Tom because they were cutting back. Tom, in turn, hated Joe, but not really. Tom just hated being at the firm. To make a long story short, it turns out that Tom figures out that he admires Joe for staying above it all. You had to be there, but it’s a great scene. The last thing that Tom says to Joe before he is taken back to his cell is:
“Yeah.” Tom raised his manacled hands abruptly. “Stay up here, you f&%#,” he said.
Good stuff. All in all, it was a labor at times, but worth the read.
One more thing, Ferris has Chicago down pat. He knows about the long lines at Potbelly, the weather, the neighborhoods, the suburbs, the lake … you name it. If you live in Chicago, it will all be very familiar to you.