Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Then We Came to the End

I am a terrible singer. I'm actually a good actor and a passable dancer but I am a terrible singer. One of my worst fears is and always has been singing in public. When I was 11 I auditioned for a local acting troupe by performing a monologue about anti-diarrhea medicine and then wowed them with my most recent Nutcracker routine. A month or so later, I found myself attending regular rehearsals with said troupe. Only things were not going exactly as I'd envisioned. I was the only one under 40 included in the troupe, and the director was a large woman with a five o'clock shadow who burped under her breath approximately every 3 minutes and then blew it in your face. And that wasn't the worst of it.

The performance we were rehearsing for? It was a musical review. And I was to be the comic relief by singing a solo of "On the Good Ship Lolly Pop" (it should be noted that by the age of 11 I looked approximately 21 years old and was technically a tenor bordering on baritone). A few weeks before opening night when it became clear to me that I was not only living this nightmare every week in rehearsals, but I would actually have to PERFORM this song in a PUBLIC PLACE, I cracked. My Mom picked me up from rehearsal and I cried the whole way home. When we got home I cried some more. I begged my Mom to get me out of it. I remember my Mother rubbing my shoulders and speaking to me in a soothing tone. "Jill, I know you don't want to do it, but this is part of growing up. You made a commitment to this group and you need to follow it through. You have to finish what you started."

This is a true story. And maybe why I have a really, really hard time quitting a book midway through. 2 days ago, I actually decided to quit Then We Came to the End about 160 pages in. I even wrote a draft review for it. But then I remembered my Mother's voice saying "You have to finish what you started" and I picked the book back up and I finished it. If you're interested, here's the review I wrote after only reading 160 pages:

Soooo... I've only read about 160 pages of this book, but I think I might be done. This book by Joshua Ferris is a national best seller that tells the story of what most of us do 40 hours a week - work. From the back of the book-

"No one knows us in quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in the department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts..."

So basically it depicts this one Chicago ad agency and the antics of their office group. Don't get me wrong, this is a good enough book, there are definitely parts where I exclaimed things like, "Oh my God, serial numbers on office furniture IS stupid!" But I still just can't seem to bring myself to finish it. Here's the thing:

1. It's written in the collective. THE COLLECTIVE. As in we did this and we did that. I found this weird and distracting. Plus, it means you don't get to know a main character.
2. I work in an office. At my office, people sit beside me in meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts. Do I need to read about it when I'm at home after I've just spent 9 hours living it in real life? Not so much.
3. It's sort of a concept novel. The concept is funny. Many of us work in offices, and office hijinks are funny. And it's weird that we spend so much of our time with people that typically have nothing to do with the rest of our lives. But once you get the concept, do you really need to read 385 pages about it?
4. The prose lacks the hilarity that this kind of story requires to be engaging. I mean, it's funny, but it needed more Augusten Boroughs or David Sedaris style dry wit to keep me interested. I only laughed out loud once in 150 pages. Here it is, the one part that made me laugh out loud:

"A fun thing to do to let off steam after layoffs began was to go into someone's office and send an e-mail from their computer addressed to the entire agency. It might say something simple like 'My name is Shaw-NEE! You are captured, Ha! I Poopie I poopie I poopie.' Poeple came in in the morning and read that and the reactions were so varied.

Jim Jackers read it and immediately sent out an e-mail that read, "Obviously someone came into my office last night and composed an e-mail in my name and sent it out to everyone. I apologize for any inconvenience or offense, although it wasn't my fault, and I would appreciate from whoever did this a public apology. I have read that email five times now and I still don't even understand it."

Okay, now you don't have to read the book. I just told you the one funny part.

After finishing the entire book, I have a few more thoughts, but most of what I said above stands. The collective (or first person plural) was still annoying and felt forced. But midway through the book, it shifts with no warning to third person, focusing on one particular character. Immediately, I started enjoying the book more, but then it switched back again. Why did he do that?! Even after reading an interview online about why, I still don't get it. It just felt weird and inconsistent.

It should be noted that the second half of this book was kind of like the second act of a musical - much more entertaining than the first act. The plot starts to veer from the "concept novel" idea that I complained about above and gets better. But not enough that I'd highly recommend the book. I'd rather watch a rerun of The Office.


Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your reviews. I always learn something about style. This time "collective" was new for me. My favorite part was about your mom.

Alicia said...

I'm so happy I found your blog! I just started my blog about a week ago and I was having a hard time finding other book bloggers!

Anyways, I read this book because I had heard such great things about it - then I read it. I almost quit as well, I couldn't take it anymore! I did end up finishing the book, but I honestly don't think I remember any of it!