Monday, March 31, 2008
This is a book about work, and the way we work, and how we treat the people we work with. It takes place in an advertising agency in Chicago that is slowly falling apart. I worked in an advertising agency in Chicago that was slowly falling apart and I have a deep desire to hold a posthumous book club with the agency and ask everyone if they know what character they are. Because that, in some ways, is the point of (and best part of)Then We Came To The End. It is written in the first person plural - the "we." And the use of "we" very much gets at the way we understand each other. In offices, people live in collectives, and operate in collectives and create narratives to understand them. Large, hive-mind shifting narratives where you can somehow know that everyone has an opinion about you and still survive the endless scrutiny of simply existing day after day with them because you've got them pegged pretty quickly.
I haven't worked in an office since August 2003. Now I am back in an office. A smaller office with fewer of the middle aged people that I found bizarre at age 22. Why were they talking to me? What did they want me to do? Didn't they know I had bigger dreams and a crushing interminable hangover from drinking at the Old Town Ale House until 4am? Every Wednesday?
The voice is perfect because I/We Did That. We would go to Starbucks for peppermint mochas because the day felt long and we felt irritated. We would complain about being oppressed. And we'd see the same people every day and then we'd leave and forget them, slowly, gatherings for drinks falling by the wayside.
In the interim of this time I was in another work situation, with a touring company of actors. (Here I commence pretending someone reads this who doesn't know me). And for some reason, you'd think it would feel the same but it never did. It never felt the way an office feels. It was more like high school: a lived in drama.
In an office there is some facade of propriety you have to follow. There's a sense of professionalism that comes from the industrial carpet and the khakis. In a van with seven other adults bound to each other by the fact that we have a show to do and only one van, well, just much much different. The personal relationships become more important. There is no boss. No sense of adult to please on the road. The stage manager is in charge of us, but also is one of us: at the end of the day, a friend.
Hmmm. I'm going to have to think about this. I recommend this book, though, - the first third is phenomenal, followed by a of a drop off in the novelty of the narrative device and, thus, the strength of the writing. It's also very funny at the beginning.