Ferris's debut novel tells the tale of a Chicago advertising firm in the years bridging the turn of the century. Ferris apparently comes at the topic from first-hand experience and even writes that...
Every agency has its frustrated copywriter whose real life was being a failed novelist working on a small, angry book about work....which suggests to me that he may just have been such a copywriter in his former career. The insight that Ferris provides into the corporate advertising world certainly makes me think that he had been writing this novel - in his head or in stages - for years while finding ways to draw us into what seems like it could be a very dry topic.
Instead, Ferris does a masterful job allowing us to see the balance between the distance that the coworkers keep between each other - constantly regailing each other with superficial tales of home and gossip of other office mates - and the real, honest caring for each other that develops through the years of shared experiences, a sort of foxhole friendship forged in what he calls fire drills - all night sessions where everybody pitches in to polish and finalize. The creatives and copywriters spend their time mostly spreading office rumors, wandering the office looking for donuts and coffee, and struggling with the power of the blank page.
The events that happen - the office manager hunting missing chairs, people being walked Spanish down the hall (their slang for the increasing layoffs), the office second remaining distant from their gossip, and their agency's partner struggling with breast cancer - aren't the real story. The tale rather centers around the day to day ways in which people pass their time, justify their jobs, and try to get a little work done on the side.
The book, which I stumbled onto - of course - via an NPR interview, has been described in a number of reviews as humorous and funny, but any portrayal of the book as simply a light-hearted laugher would miss the mark entirely. This outstanding novel is a wonderful exploration of human relationships - even going so far as to include the typically-trite-but-not-this-time final chapter of bringing the characters back together for a reunion five years after the bulk of the book fades away.
If you've got the time, this would be a great way to spend a few hours, folks.
Plus it's got some really cool first-person plural narration throughout...something that's pretty rare to pull off successfully but that works perfectly here as a means of communicating the office's democratizing and unifying power.