Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Then We Came to the End

Last night I finally finished reading a really great novel called Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris. I say finally because I was to have finished the novel for a book club party that Karen and I hosted in October. Since I've always been on top of these sorts of things, obviously circumstances completely out of my control hindered a more timely completion of this novel. Anyways, it's a hilarious debut novel about several copywriters and designers at a Chicago ad agency who face layoffs at the end of the '90s Internet boom. I was hooked from the very beginning. The novel's prologue is especially funny. Here's an excerpt:

We were fractious and overpaid. . . It was the era of take-ones and tchotchkes. The world was flush with Internet cash and we got our fair share of it. It was our position that logo design was every bit as important as product performance and distribution systems. 'Wicked cool' were the words we used to describe our logo designs. 'Bush league' were the words we used to describe the logo designs of other agencies -- unless it was a really well-designed logo, in which case we bowed down before it, much like the ancient Mayans did their pagan gods. We, too, thought it would never end.

I found that I enjoyed the novel as the plot thickened, and things got a little more serious with Lynn's illness and layoffs (appropriately referred to in the novel as "walking Spanish"--a euphemism for being fired, inspired by Spanish pirates walking toward execution). I also loved the "collective We" that Ferris employs in the novel, in which mere surface descriptions are given of the seemingly petty and eccentric copywriters, contrasted with the vivid, deep, and descriptive portrayal provided for Lynn (which, I must say, effectively broke my heart). Ferris=literary genius.

Although I've never actually watched an episode of The Office, the popular NBC sit-com, I would assume the same sort of office humor applies here. I really think anybody involved in advertising, design, or any sort of office culture would really enjoy this book. I was thinking that my brother and high school friend Katy might enjoy it most.

Here's another enjoyable exerpt:

It reminded Carl of when an ad got watered down by a client, and watered down, until everything interesting about the ad disappeared. Carl still had to write the copy for it. The art director still had to put the drop shadow where the drop shadow belonged and the logo in its proper place. That was the process known as 'polishing the turd'. All over America, in fact, people were up and out of their beds today in a continuing effort to polish turds. Sure, for the sake of survival, but more immediately, for the sake of some sadistic manager or shit-brained client whose small imagination and numbingly dumb ideas were bleaching the world of all relevancy and hope.

This one really made me think of my brother and the life of a designer. Just that feeling of frustration that nobody gets it. And they never will. And so, I will leave you with that. This book is a gem. It will leave you laughing out loud. But not in an annoying You Shall Know Our Velocity (Dave Eggers) sort of way, but more of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (also Dave Eggers) sort of way. You see?

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