Book Review: Then We Came to the End

Then We Came to the End

Joshua Ferris

Little, Brown and Company

400 pages

We all know how monotonous work can be, especially the type of work that takes place in an office, at a desk, however, there is rarely a book that chooses to focus on that.  Then We Came to the End is set in an advertising company that is quickly going down the tubes after the market took a downturn.  Layoffs are abundant and everyone is tense as they wait to see whether they will be the next one to “walk Spanish”.

You also have the exorbitant amount of gossip that is common in the workplace.  Many of the coworkers are concerned that one of the partners is suffering from breast cancer, although no one can pinpoint exactly where the rumor originally started.  Not to mention that many people are fearful that a certain ex employee will come back to shoot up the building.

As someone who has held an office job, I could very much relate to the trials and tribulations espoused by the employees of Then We Came to the End.  Many portions had me chuckling aloud, while others had me nodding in agreement.

There was so much unpleasantness in the workaday world. The last thing you ever wanted to do at night was go home and do the dishes. And just the idea that part of the weekend had to be dedicated to getting the oil changed and doing the laundry was enough to make those of us still full from lunch want to lie down in the hallway and force anyone dumb enough to remain committed to walk around us. It might not be so bad. They could drop food down to us, or if that was not possible, crumbs from their PowerBars and bags of microwave popcorn surely would end up within an arm’s length sooner or later. The cleaning crews, needing to vacuum, would inevitably turn us on our sides, preventing bedsores, and we would make little toys out of runs in the carpet, which, in moments of extreme regression, we might suck on for comfort.

Although I left my office job months ago, I felt like I was right back at my desk, sipping my coffee and wondering how the hell I would make it through another day.  And I actually liked my job.

As much as I liked the book, I did feel at times that it was a little too long.  Ferris could have edited it in order to make it a tighter narrative, although that is really my only complaint.  Then We Came to the End is just an amazing piece of satire, and I am thinking I should read The Unnamed now, although I am not sure how similar the two books are.

Other Reviews:

Sophisticated Dorkiness

Presenting Lenore

Shelf Life

I purchased this book from Half Price Books.

Book Review: Gourmet Rhapsody

Gourmet Rhapsody

Muriel Barbery

Europa Editions

160 pages

Pierre Arthen is an abhorrent man.  He is a French food critic who alienates those around him, including his children, who harbor a hatred and resentment towards him for the way they were treated as children.

Everything is now coming to the surface now, because Pierre has been told that he has only 24 hours to live.  He has started to recount his life through different foods he has had, with his sole intention being to recapture a lost flavor that eludes him.  His sole wish is to recall that flavor before he dies.  Meanwhile, the narrative flips back and forth between Pierre and those who are close to him.

The basic plot reminded me a lot of Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych, although it has been years since I read it, so my memory is a bit hazy. Maybe I didn’t “get” Gourmet Rhapsody, because I would have anticipated that a story of this kind would involve some type of self awareness, with Pierre or his family members resolving some of the animosity that had struck over the years.  That didn’t seem to happen, and I didn’t see any remorse on Pierre’s end.  I suppose the ending, when he discovers the lost flavor, would be some sort of revelation on his part, but it did not seem all encompassing.

I read this book solely because I loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I would have had very little interest in the book otherwise, and while I could see Barbery’s skills coming to light in Gourmet Rhapsody, it did not resonate with me in the way Hedgehog did.

Other Reviews:

My Cozy Book Nook

Paperback Reader

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.

Book Review: Summer Sisters

Summer Sisters

Judy Blume

Bantam

399 pages

Caitlin and Victoria (Vix) are school friends when Vix is invited to spend the summer with Caitlin at her father’s home on Martha’s Vineyard.  Regardless of where the girls are during the school year or whether or not they remain close during that time, Vix always returns to stay at the Vineyard during the summer. Each summer is chronicled as the girls continue to get older, so in some ways it could definitely be seen as a coming of age story.

Caitlin is the more outgoing, dare devilish girl, whereas Vix is more contemplative and serious.  She attempts to keep Caitlin out of trouble, but as the years go on,  Caitlin seems to get more out of control.  Meanwhile, both girls find boyfriends, as well as get into typical squabbles.  As they get older, they end up growing apart, although Vix always seems to hold onto that bond she has had with Caitlin.

I had a hard time writing the above summary, because it just felt so juvenile.  But the book itself was pretty juvenile, so I guess it makes sense.  At the beginning, I was unsure of why the book was touted as an adult book when it clearly did not have that tone, but then it became obvious: sex.  There is a LOT of sex in this book.  That wouldn’t generally be a problem for me, but it seemed disingenuous in this case, not to mention that it felt like there was no point; it was just sex for the sake of sex.

The character development in Summer Sisters was also lacking.  It was difficult to get any insight into most of the characters, and even Vix started to really irritate me.  She seemed to be the most mature, but she was also non confrontational to a fault.  The book starts off with Caitlin’s wedding . . . to Vix’s ex boyfriend.  The circumstances aren’t exactly clear at that point, but as the back story develops, Caitlin’s motives come into question and I was left wanting to shake Vix for just going along with it! She seemed spineless.

Maybe Blume should have stuck with YA, which seems to be her niche.  So far, I haven’t been too blown away by her adult novels.  I actually contemplated putting this one down halfway through, which never would have crossed my mind with any of her YA books.

Other Reviews:

everything distils into reading

I purchased this book from Half Price Books.

Book Review: Affinity

Affinity

Sarah Waters

Riverhead Trade

368 pages

Margaret Prior is practically an old maid.  She is nearing 30 and life is looking bleak, so much so that she has already attempted suicide.  The year is 1874 and Margaret has decided to attempt to break up the monotony of her days by visiting the inmates of Millibank prison.  As you can imagine, she meets many desperate, sad characters, who live day in and day out in the bleak, dank cells of the prison.  Fairly quickly though, a particular inmate catches Margaret’s attention.  Her name is Selina Dawes and she is what you might call prophetic: a spiritual medium.  In fact, it is that same livelihood that has landed Selina in prison in the first place.

As her friendship with Selina progresses, Margaret’s interest is piqued and she begins to do some sleuthing.  She is quickly enveloped by Selina’s world, and their relationship blossoms.  Margaret gets in over her head, and she becomes more and more furtive to protect her relationship with Selina.

I was fascinated by the portrayal of the women’s prison, including both the women held captive their as well as the women that were affected by simply working in the prison.  The only aspect of the book that really wasn’t all that interesting to me was the medium part, or as I like to call it, the “hocus pocus”.  As Affinity progressed though, I became more and more enveloped, and I felt myself becoming as naive as Margaret.

There were times when I felt that Affinity might be straying to close to The Little Stranger in that it was moving a little too slow for me and I was beginning to wonder if maybe Waters was moving down on the totem pole as far as favorite authors go.  The ending changed all that.  Obviously, I don’t want to give the ending away, so I’ll keep the specifics to myself, but I will say that there was an aha moment for me, and the entire book started to become more clear.  I began to question everything I had though up to that point, and I was unsure of how to proceed with my jumbled thoughts.  Thus, you can see, Affinity is a book I had to digest long after finishing the last page.

I now have only one Waters book left to read: The Night Watch. So far I have only disliked The Little Stranger, although I can still appreciate the genius of her prose.

Have you read Affinity?  If so, how were you affected by the ending?

Other Reviews:

S Krishna’s Books

Booklust

things mean a lot

She Reads Novels

chasing bawa

A Book Blog. Period.

Fizzy Thoughts

another cookie crumbles

You GOTTA Read This!

I purchased this book from . . . Amazon? Borders?

Book Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Tom Franklin

Harper Perennial

304 pages

Larry Ott is a solitary figure.  Having lived in a small, southern town for his entire life, his reputation is tarnished and he is treated as a pariah.  As a teenager, Larry had been an outcast, so everyone was surprised when he was asked on a date by one of his female peers.  No one knows what happened to the girl, who disappeared while out with Larry.  From then on, the suspicions of the entire town lie with Larry, and everyone believes that he is guilty of the girl’s disappearance.

Now, years later, Larry lives by himself in the same town, and his old friend Silas “32” Jones is the constable of the town when another girl disappears.  Once again, Larry is caught in the middle of everyone’s suspicions.  32 is himself coming to terms with what happened years ago, and as the book wears on, his old relationship with Larry comes to light.  Added to all this complexity is the fact that 32 is black and Larry is white; not a seemingly big deal now, but decades ago in the south, their friendship was something that had to be more hidden.

I am a big mystery buff; literary mysteries are my weakness, and I expected this to be your run of the mill mystery about two missing girls.  In fact, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter was anything but.  The character development was absolutely exquisite.  Both 32 and Larry, especially, were so intricately woven that I was immediately submerged into their world.  Larry became one of the most sympathetic characters I have ever encountered.  One scene was especially poignant for me.  The boys are teenagers, and Larry is dressed as a ghost for the local haunted house.  It seems as if his peers may have accepted him at this point, and he is part of the social scene, or so both he and I expected.

‘Anyway,’ he went on, ‘when Larry come out of the haunted house, we all just kind of pretended not to see him.  All of us.’

He told her how Larry stood in the floodlight for a long time.  Figuring it out.  The mask deflated under his arm.  Finally he turned and walked down the dirt road to the paved one.  He paused at the road in his whipping sheet and waited, as if a car was coming though none was, waited a long time, and still no car came.  Some of the seniors had forgotten him and were passing cigarettes and beer, but Silas watched as Larry finally crossed the road and walked into the parking lot.  He stopped there, too, and took off his sheet and looked over the cars, as if selecting one to buy.  He’d forgotten where he’d parked his mother’s Buick, that’s what he was doing now.  In case anybody glanced over and happened to notice him and yell, ‘Hey, look! It’s Larry! Come back! Join the party!’

My heart ached for Larry.  He is one of those characters that I expect will stay with me for a long time to come.  I just now realized that Franklin has written other novels prior to Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, and I am anxious to see if anyone has read them and, if so, how they compare to this one.

Other Reviews:

The Book Lady’s Blog

Rhapsody in Books

The Literate Housewife Review

Caribous Mom

Books and Movies

Eclectic/Eccentric

Fizzy Thoughts

Page 247

Linus’s Blanket

Lesley’s Book Nook

I purchased this book for my kindle.

Book Review(s): The Polysyllabic Omnibus

Housekeeping vs The Dirt

Nick Hornby

McSweeney’s

200 pages

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shakespeare Wrote for Money

Nick Hornby

McSweeney’s

200 pages

It all began with The Polysyllabic Spree, wherein Nick Hornby compiled the first year or so of his Believer column entitled “Stuff I’ve Been Reading”, which I reviewed here. Housekeeping vs The Dirt and Shakespeare Wrote for Money are the second and third compilations from that column.

For those book bloggers among you, I think we can all relate to Hornby’s column.

I began writing this column in the summer of 2003. It seemed to me that what I had chosen to read in the preceding few weeks contained a narrative, of sorts–that one book led to another, and thus themes and patterns emerged, patterns that might be worth looking at. And, of course, that was pretty much the last time my reading had any kind of logic or shape to it.  Ever since then my choice of books has been haphazard, whimsical and entirely shapeless.

Housekeeping vs The Dirt

pg 11

Personally, I could care less whether there is any logic to what Hornby reads.  I just enjoy reading about what he has read and what his reactions were.  I will also add that although I could care less about cricket, or any other sports that Hornby tends to read about, I still love reading what his thoughts on such books.  He just has such a great writing style, infused with plenty of wit, that he could write about reading the Encyclopedia and I am pretty sure I would enjoy it.

I was distraught when Shakespeare Wrote for Money ended with the September 2008 column, as Hornby had decided to step away from the Believer. I could not believe that this was the end of “Stuff I’ve Been Reading”. So imagine my elation when I read that Hornby had restarted his column–sometime in the spring of 2010, I think.  Hard as I try, I can’t find anything on the internet that says whether a fourth volume will be released in the future. I am keeping my fingers crossed, because at this point I am not ready to shell out for a subscription to the Believer.  I am not certain whether I will read anything else in the magazine, and $45+ a year is a bit much to pay for one column.

If you haven’t read The Polysyllabic Spree or its followers, I implore you–do it! Any book lover will be instantly enamored with Hornby and his column.

Other Reviews of Housekeeping vs The Dirt:

Stainless Steel Droppings

Life is a Patchwork Quilt

Sasha & The Silverfish

things mean a lot

Other Reviews of Shakespeare Wrote for Money:

Books and Movies

BookNAround

things mean a lot

I purchased both of these books from Borders.

Book Review: The Long Journey Home

The Long Journey Home: A Memoir

Margaret Robison

Spiegel & Grau

400 pages

The Long Journey Home begins during Margaret Robison’s childhood in Cairo, Georgia.  Born in the 1930s, Cairo seems to be an idyllic childhood setting.  Lush pecan trees and other foliage pepper Robison’s prose, but something more sinister lurks in the background.  Robison’s mother, for one, is a cold, frigid woman who has trouble showing her love to her children.  Robison is especially troubled when, as a young teenager, she overhears her mother telling her father that she is not sure whether she can live with Robison being a lesbian, something that she has begun to suspect.  This is only one example of the seclusion Robison felt during her early years, and it only carried on to adulthood.

While Robison was away studying at college, she met her future husband, John Robison.  John was studying to become a minister, and at first he seemed like a clean cut gentleman.  Robison quickly discovered that all was not as it seemed; John turned out to be an alcoholic who abused Robison during his alcohol fueled rages.  Robison made a few attempts to leave the relationship, both before and during her marriage, but always ended up returning to John.

Robison and John both eventually spiraled downward into clinical depression and even psychosis.  The extent of John’s mental illness was impossible to gauge, as the reader only knows what Robison herself remembers from the time, but Robison herself is quick to admit to her own mental illness. While she attempted to assuage her demons with painting and writing, there were times when she was completely debilitated by her illness.

Here’s where it gets interesting; both Robison and her husband were treated by the complete whack job Dr Turcotte.  For those of you familiar with Augusten Burroughs’ memoir Running with Scissors, you will recognize Dr Turcotte as the loony Dr Finch.  Robison spent years under the care of Dr Turcotte, spending time in and out of mental hospitals, as well as the hotel that Turcotte used to treat his patients.  Eventually, years later, after Turcotte had had a lasting impact on her family, Robison realized the control he was exercising over her and she severed all ties with him.  By then, the ramifications had already become apparent.

Robison has two sons, John Elder and Augusten Burroughs, referred to in the book by his birth name Christopher.  Although there had always been abuse in the marriage between Robison and her husband, John Elder was out of the house by the time the marriage imploded and Robison started her downward spiral into mental illness.  Chris was largely affected by the environment during his teenage years, and Turcotte played a large part of in that.

Given the notoriety of Running with Scissors, I was surprised that Robison didn’t focus more on the decisions she made at that time and, more importantly, the impact it had on Chris.  In my opinion, she completely glossed over her parental decision making at that time, as well as her relationship with Chris.  There were a few instances where she attempted to discount certain allegations that her son had made in his book, but they were very scattered.

As soon as I finished The Long Journey Home, I immediately reread Running with Scissors.  It had been a few years since I read it, and I wanted to compare the two memoirs. Burroughs had quite a bit to say about his mother and I was surprised that she hadn’t gone more in depth on the way she was portrayed in his book.

The two memoirs are completely different in tone and depth.  Robison’s memoir spans her entire life and was very serious.  It also was not completely linear, with her jumping back and forth at some points.  Burroughs’ memoir, on the other hand, is more comedic, being darkly humorous.  I was surprised that, while Burroughs was hit with a lawsuit by the Turcotte family due to the sensitive nature of his book, as well as their claims of false allegations and embellishments despite using fake names for the family members, Robison used their real names.  And her account of Turcotte and his family was pretty much just as bad as that of Burroughs. Whether there will be any ramifications of that, we have yet to see.

Overall, while I expected The Long Journey Home to shed more light on Robison’s relationship with her famous son, I still found the insight into her creative outlets and her mental illness to be quite fascinating.

About Margaret Robison

Margaret Robison is an artist and the author of four books of poetry. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

Learn more about Margaret at her website, www.margaretrobison.com.


Margaret Robison’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Wednesday, June 1st:  Well Read Wife

Thursday, June 2nd:  The Girl from the Ghetto

Monday, June 6th:  Books Like Breathing

Tuesday, June 7th:  Life in Review

Thursday, June 9th:  Silver and Grace

Monday, June 13th:  Reviews by Lola

Monday, June 20th:  Sara’s Organized Chaos

Friday, June 24th:  Chaotic Compendiums

Monday, June 27th:  The Book Lady’s Blog – guest post

Thursday, June 30th:  Rundpinne

Thursday, July 7th:  SMS Book Reviews

Friday, July 8th:  Colloquium

Friday, July 15th:  Thoughts of Joy

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