Friday, March 28, 2008

Dilbert with heart

An interesting thing about starting a new job is that in the midst of being trained, innundated, overwhelmed and confused, one also has a certain clarity, an objective view of the "office politics" that may be found in all work-settings except for, perhaps, the one-person home business. This never lasts, of course. Soon, unavoidably, one ceases to see and instead becomes just another player in the game: one of us.

Joshua Ferris' wickedly funny debut novel, Then we came to the end is a full immersion in the world of cubicle culture. An advertising agency that has been riding the wave is faced with declining prospects and the layoffs have begun. The usual office gossip and high jinx are replaced with fear and speculation: who will be next? More importantly, who will get the vacated chair?

What's most interesting about Ferris' novel is not that it's funny (though it is truly hilarious) but that it is also engaging and ultimately quite moving. The workplace, especially of the cubicle persuasion, is an easy target for humor. It is also the environment where most of us spend most of our time. Ferris captures perfectly the unique situation of co-workers, the "family" that is not our family, the genuine intimacy that exists between those sharing a common purpose and a small space, but which often simply vanishes with a layoff, a job change, retirement. Eventually, it's time to go home.

This is an very accomplished first novel: Joshua Ferris is a writer to watch.

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