'We had mixed feelings,' the voice that narrates Then We Came to the End reports from time to time - needlessly, really, since mixed feelings, and the absurdity and awkwardness of reporting them in the first person plural, are one of the main sources of comedy in Joshua Ferris's novel. 'Everyone loved Benny,' the voice says, 'which was why some of us hated his guts.' Then there's Karen Woo: 'Did we dislike her because we were racists, because we were misogynists, because her "initiative" rankled and her ambition was so bald,' or 'because she was who she was and we were forced by fate to be around her all the time? Our diversity pretty much guaranteed it was a combination of all of the above.' Garrulous and reticent, male and female, victims and perpetrators of workplace pranks, Ferris's office workers also set grammar problems for themselves when they act as well as speak in unison. On slow days, 'we drummed the eraser between our teeth. If a stray paper clip happened to be lying around we were likely to bend it out of shape.' One paper clip? One eraser? In their line of work, which is advertising, 'words and meaning were almost always at odds . . . We knew it, you knew it, they knew it, we all knew it.'
LRB 19 July 2007 | PDF Download