Sunday, January 17, 2010

Then We Came To The End

Here at CSD headquarters, we are re-reading Joshua Ferris' 2007 novel Then We Came To The End as part of The Onion AV Club's book club, 'Wrapped Up in Books.' Though 8yearoldsdude disagrees with my evaluation of the novel, I think it is a perceptive look at how people behave at work, a Catch-22 for the contemporary office space. Whatever criticisms of the novel you may have, one has to admire Ferris' bravura set pieces, like this one:

We opened a few Quark document, or took out our penciles. Every once in a while a nicely sharpened pencil would crack on the page upon impact and we'd have to go in search of the one electric pencil sharpener. That was annoying. Back in our chairs we drummed the eraser between our teeth. If a stray paper clip happened to be lying around we were likely to bend it out of shape. Some of us knew how to turn a misshapen paper clip into a projectile that could hit the ceiling. If our attention was drawn to the ceiling, we usually recounted our tiles. When we returned to our computer screens, we erased whatever false starts we found there, suddenly embarassed by them. We had the feeling that our bad ideas were probably worse than the bad ideas of others. Those of us who worked on sketch pads were engaged by that point in the great unsung pastime of American corporate life, the wadded paper toss. This, more than anything, was what "billable hour" implied. It was always annoying when an eyelid started to twitch. We did some drag-and-drop. What was missing was an interesting color palette, so we leaned back in our chairs and gave it some thought. What Pantone would be perfect for a fund-raising event? No one ever admitted to it publicly, but there were days of extreme sexual frustration. The phone would ring. It was nothing. We checked our e-mail. We clicked back into Quark and established new snap-to guides. Sometimes our computers froze and we would have to call down to IT. Or we needed something from the supply room. Lately inventory in the supply room seemed half of what it used to be, and the woefully bereft drought and low crop production in the history of a foregone people. But usually we needed nothing from the supply room. We took out our bags of snacks from our desk drawers, or we chewed our fingernails. Suddenly a blinding flash of the obvious would strike, and a flurry of keyboard noise flittered out into the hall. We thought, "This is not a half-bad idea." That was all we needed, one little insight. Soon the roughest look, the crudest message, started to shape itself into coherence. Inevitably when we reached that point, we stopped to use the restroom.

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