Sunday, February 4, 2007

A Corner Cubicle in the Shirkplace

For anyone who ever logged serious zombie time in a grey cubicle with cloth walls that wouldn't hold tacks and hard black plastic chairs for your gossipy colleagues to slide into, you will be amazed at how accurately Joshua Ferris captures the workplace demimonde in Then We Came to the End.

It's an insider's view of the social life of an office and its numerous staff at an unnamed advertising firm in Chicago. This quirky family by turns loves and loathes its members and even after the firm begins laying off employees, they all come together for one last reunion. They discover how close they were and how far apart they are now with no chance of regaining that intimacy again since it is only acquired in close proximity to each other and no amount of email, lunch or phone calls will keep them together.

The reader is an eavesdropper to the unnamed narrator who recounts Benny's wild adventures with an inherited totem pole; the catalog of Marcia's relentlessly-'80s hair dos; Jim's lame but earnest ad pitches; Joe's inflexible professionalism; office leader Lynn's breast cancer; and the breakdowns of not one, but three, laid off workers.

The conversational style appears to veer off into tangents but the author always brings himself back to the story at hand. It's a 375 page watercooler-coffeebreak-threemartinilunch of a novel. You'll have it read by quitting time.

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