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.

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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.

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

Book Review: Summer Sisters

Summer Sisters

Judy Blume


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:

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I purchased this book from Half Price Books.

Book Review: 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?

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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.

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Page 247

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I purchased this book for my kindle.

Book Review(s): The Polysyllabic Omnibus

Housekeeping vs The Dirt

Nick Hornby


200 pages







Shakespeare Wrote for Money

Nick Hornby


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.

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Other Reviews of Shakespeare Wrote for Money:

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I purchased both of these books from Borders.