Tag Archives: Then We Came To The End

TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR by Joshua Ferris

I’ve given Joshua Ferris three chances. The first was Then We Came To The End, the book about the effect of the dotcom bust on a downsizing ad agency and its Greek chorus of employees, which I didn’t really like despite its rave reviews. The second was The Unnamed, about a lawyer afflicted with an illness that forces him to keep walking for months at a time, which I liked better than TWCTTE but still found to be inconsistent. And finally, I just finished To Rise Again At A Decent Hour, another Ferris novel that wasn’t what I expected and ultimately disappointed.


To Rise Again At A Decent Hour is about Paul O’Rourke, a neurotic, misanthropic atheist dentist living in Brooklyn who is obsessed with the Red Sox. (Yes, that’s all relevant.) When the book opens, Paul, who is very private and controlled in what he shares with the world, finds websites and social media accounts popping up in his name. Even more troubling,the content of the accounts is vaguely anti-Semitic (Paul is not Jewish, but he’s kind of obsessed with being Jewish) and go on and on about ancient peoples who allegedly faced persecution and prejudice worse than the Jews ever did.

Much of To Rise Again At A Decent Hour focuses on religious musings about the existence of God, using a somewhat confusing storyline of a man who has traced his roots back to one of these persecuted groups and is trying to recruit others who share the bloodline. Paul is one of those recruits, along with a multibillionaire hedge fund manager whom Paul befriends when they are both drawn in to this strange netherworld, which (sort of) explains the impersonations of Paul appearing on the Internet.

Sounds weird, right?

I had expected this book to be about modern technology and its negative impact on our lives and relationships, and there is some of that in here. But not much. The book meanders around through Biblical stories, anecdotes about Paul’s patients, explanations about why his prior relationships failed, and Paul’s inner dialogues about God. To be honest, most of this book was incredibly boring. There were flashes of brilliance here and there – and those flashes were bright. Like, laugh out loud, nod-in-the-car type of brilliance. But they were so few and far between that I had to ask myself over and over whether they were worth it for the narrative tedium that extended between them. The answer is no.

By the end of To Rise Again At A Decent Hour, I was quite angry at the book. I found it pretty unpleasant to read. I liked the passages about Paul’s superstition about the Red Sox, and his skewering of random people walking along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade on summer night was hilarious. But the rest – my god, I want those hours back.

I listened to To Rise Again At A Decent Hour on audio. It was narrated by one of my favorite narrators of all time – the sublime Campbell Scott – and I bet that if he hadn’t been narrating, I would have given up on the book. He’s got this gorgeous, deep, perfect voice which I adore, and I’ve loved some of his other audiobooks. But even he couldn’t save this book for me. I kept wondering what HE thought of the book as he was narrating. Was his mind wandering too?

Sorry – can’t recommend this one.

Miscellany

Some random book-related tidbits to share:

  • Check out this Tournament of Books. If you like the bracket format but don’t really care about the NCAA, then this may be the tourney for you. Each matchup was judged by a different critic, and you can click on the right hand column to read the full analysis of each matchup. [Bonus points to anyone who can explain to me how one of the final two books – Remainder – seems to have been eliminated a few times throughout the tourney but still made it to the final two.]
  • Then We Came To The End, by Joshua Ferris, just won the 2008 Hemingway/PEN Award. I still don’t understand the hype about this book. I really didn’t like it all that much.
  • Min Jin Lee’s Free Food for Millionaires is now out in paperback. I reviewed it here and posted a Q&A with Min Jin Lee here. Also, it has a new cover that looks like this:
  • Lee_2

THEN WE CAME TO THE END by Joshua Ferris


Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris, was not what I expected. I knew it had been nominated for the National Book Award. I knew that it was about a Chicago ad agency during the dotcom bust of 2001. I expected a wry, cynical view of white-collar office life and the folly and self-importance of the high-flying late 90s. I thought it would be funny and dark and satiric and a relatively light read.

Nope.

First of all, I didn’t really like it.

I seem to be in the tiniest of minorities here – every time I turn around, I see it on someone’s top 5 or top 10 books of 2007 list – The New York Times, EW, Slate.  Critics have called it “hilarious,” “totally off-the-wall”, “acidly funny”, and “entertaining.” I will grant that the book is original. It is divided into roughly three sections, two of which are told in the first person plural in a Greek-chorus, Everyman-esque format.  The narrators are the collective employees of a continuously downsizing ad agency. Ferris’ book is unique – his storytelling is almost frustratingly methodical, while also omniscient and universal. His doomed copwriters and art directors experience the challenges of the workplace that many of us have shared: office gossip, petty arguments, romances, unrequited crushes, paranoia and backstabbing. The art of wasting time. The satisfaction of being busy and meeting deadlines. The book even explores the pall that cancer casts on the co-workers when one of their supervisors is rumored to be afflicted.

However, I just couldn’t get into it. I found that I didn’t really care about any of the characters – perhaps this is a casualty of the faceless narration. The book became a chore to read. There were moments of brilliance, and I laughed out loud at times in recognition of one observation or another, but I just didn’t love the book. I can’t quite figure out what all the hoopla is about. Again, Ferris’ approach was very creative, and a writer I met recently commented that this seems to be the first book about the contemporary workplace that has broken through. Both may be true, but that didn’t make it a great read, in my opinion.

I know I am an army of one here, but I just can’t recommend the book.

Ok, bring it on – tell me why you liked it.