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Book Review: Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris

The majority of the book is narrated in a first person plural & ndash; unusual in a novel, and rather difficult to make readable and plausible. The We of the narration is the collective voice of the underlings in a Chicago-based advertising agency whose daily operations are powered by a frenetic hive mentality. The collective voice fits perfectly with corporate cubical life. Some are weak, some are strong, some are smart, some are not, but all function as one cohesive unit & ndash; or so the We would have you believe. When the We are assigned a mysterious pro bono account for a breast cancer awareness group, the We becomes convinced their boss, Lynn Mason, has cancer and has created this false account. There is absolutely no proof of this & ndash; all the speculation comes from interoffice mutterings and gossip & ndash; the all-powerful driving force in the We's lives. But even when faced with a fake ad campaign, the We retain a sliver of workplace pride in doing a job well done.

Ferris's playful narration interlaces dozens of anecdotal stories from the office & ndash; many stemming from the firing of a troublesome, unhappy, Fight Club -reject-type employee, Tom Mota. But Tom is just part of the We. Chain-smoking Brizz is fired, dies, and wills Benny Shasburger a 25-foot totem pole. Marcia Dwyer has bad hair and only listens to & ldquo;bands we had outgrown in the eleventh grade & rdquo;. Tom wears layers of the same company polo shirts every day and calls it expressing & ldquo;company pride & rdquo;. Anxious Chris Yop is convinced he will be fired because he has someone else's office chair and bookshelves in his office & ndash; though he pronounces & ldquo;bookshelves & rdquo; as & ldquo;buckshelves & rdquo;. And Jim Jackers is always the last to know.

Midway through the book, Ferris changes gears, and voice, employing Lynn as his sole narrator. (Begin the & ldquo;bighearted & rdquo; section.) The humor and wit of the collective We is brought to a screeching halt, and the truth and reality of Lynn's life comes to the fore. Gone are the hypothetical musings and ridiculous minor workplace transgressions & ndash; the humanity of the collective begins to shine through. As the firm begins laying off workers at an alarming rate, the bonds between those remaining grows ever tighter ( the We begin to obsessively guess who will be fired next & ndash; dubbed & ldquo;walking Spanish & rdquo;). The We are more than silly office anecdotes and expendable worker bees & ndash; at the core of every character is a human being with a history and a future and Ferris proves masterful at drawing these stories out. We begin to wonder who the We really are & ndash; is disgruntled Tom crazy and destined to return to murder everyone? Is Karen Woo really an ice queen or is there more to her than meets the eye? Did Chris steal someone's chair?

The underlying theme seems to be there is always more to the people around us than we think, and the book more than lives up to its & ldquo;bighearted & rdquo; billing. So I guess there is some truth in advertising after all, and life is far more than the contents of your cubical.