Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

And Then We Came to the End

We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise. At least those of us who smoked had something to look forward to at ten-fifteen. … Our benefits were astonishing in comprehensiveness and quality of care. Sometimes we questioned whether they were worth it. We thought moving to India might be better, or going back to nursing school. Doing something with the handicapped or working with our hands.  No one ever acted on these impulses, despite their daily, sometimes hourly contractions. Instead we met in conference rooms to discuss the issues of the day.

And so begins Joshua Ferris’s novel in the first person plural. It reminds me of lines from Talib Kweli’s “Get By”, also in the first person plural:

We commute to computers
Spirits stay mute while you eagles spread rumors
We survivalists, turned to consumers.

And that’s where these two works diverge. Then We Came to the End is a satire with an ensemble of characters as rich as those in Catch-22 and Confederacy of Dunces. It’s a satire that is as much about the people who engage in the ritual of work as it is about the ritual itself. It’s a satire that is sharp yet somehow manages to avoid the bitter aftertaste of cynicism upon finishing.

It’s a satire that sometimes becomes serious, even solemn, but I haven’t read something that’s made me laugh so much since George Saunders’s In Persuasion Nation, perhaps even Confederacy of Dunces. Go read it!

(Thanks to NI for introducing me to it.)

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