Posted by: Jeanie F | August 11, 2010

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (with a few apologies to the author)

                  

I have put off reading this book not only in spite of its great reviews, but because of them. Here’s why:                 

In 1995 I read a short story by Daniel Orozco titled “Orientation.” It was included in the 1995 edition of Best American Short Stories. This was a dark and funny parody of a new employee’s orientation to a new job. Although the story isn’t told in first person plural voice, it has that tone of “groupspeak.” You can see in this excerpt that much of the commentary is in this voice:         

That is our receptionist. She is a temp. We go through receptionists here. They quit with alarming frequency. Be polite and civil to the temps. Learn their names, and invite them to lunch occasionally. But dont get close to them, as it only makes it more difficult when they leave. And they always leave. You can be sure of that.  The mens room is over there. The womens room is over there. John LaFountaine, who sits over there, uses the womens room occasionally. He says it is accidental. We know better, but we let it pass. John LeFountaine is harmless, his forays into the forbidden territory of the womens room simply a benign thrill, a faint blip on the dull flat line of his life.            

 This is really an outstanding story, and I highly recommend you read the complete text.    

 Not long after I read “Orientation,” I was involved in a Writer’s Workshop and decided to try writing a story in the first person plural voice myself. The story I wrote was titled “New Dog” and tells the story of an office romance through the collective eyes of the participants’ co-workers. I never found a satisfactory ending and my workshop group didn’t really like the voice, so I never did much of anything with this story. Now, of course, it’s too late. Anything I did with it would be seen as derivative of Then We Came to The End.    

So Joshua Ferris comes along and writes a fantastically well-reviewed novel using the same concept and voice. Does it matter that his is brilliant and funny and named “One of the 10 Best Books of the Year” by none other than The New York Times, Time Magazine, and The Boston Globe, to name only a few (and not to mention being a finalist for the National Book Award)? Not at all! Does it matter that, unlike me, he actually stuck with it and finished the damn thing? Not at all! I just want Joshua Ferris to know I THOUGHT OF IT FIRST. So yes, I did read his book and loved it. But I’m NOT going to review it! If you want to read some reviews, you can look at The New York TimesOr Slate. Or O Magazine. Or The New Yorker. But just keep in mind that Then We Came to the End is highly derivative of my story, “New Dog.”  

Responses

  1. Congrats for thinking of it first! My brushes with greatness have not been so refined. I actually thought of toe rings before they came out, but I rarely feel the urge to share that.

  2. I also thought of “coffee bags” – like tea bags, but for coffee. We obviously are both forward thinkers! 🙂


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