The end is always near

No industry can compete with advertising as an arena for our cultural anxieties about business. Of TV Crazy men is just the most recent standout entry in this crowded discourse, perhaps derived from Frederic Wakeman’s 1946 novel Hucksterstells the story of a veteran returning to radio advertising, a line of work he will eventually find reprehensible.

A movie version of Hucksters, starring Clark Gable and Deborah Kerr, debuted in 1947, followed by a series of films, TV shows, and novels that related in one way or another to the advertising business. After all, what better setting to dramatize the artist’s righteous commercial disdain?

With so much competition, what’s more impressive is that no advertising novel can hold the candle Then We Came to the End. it’s a refreshing absence of ethics, a profound understanding of what work means in today’s world, and a vivid portrait of workplace dynamics among creative professionals. Executives can always profit by reading a good novel, but they can hardly choose one that is more directly applicable — or interesting — than Ferris’ novel.

The setting is an advertising agency in Chicago after the dot-com boom. A collection of young innovators toil to temper fervor (and fight despair) under the supervision of an aristocratic partner named Lynn Mason. The story is told by a first person narrator, mystical plural, speaking in a sober tone, a mixture of skepticism and insecurity, common in the complex social structure of the place. modern work.

Aside from the odd joys and discontents of office life for the educated and imaginative, who can’t help but dream of a richer, more meaningful existence, there are two the main issue that drives the story. The first is the post-bubble era in which it is set. Work has dried up, advertisers are killing time while paying their remaining customers for dead hours, and the layoffs have begun. For those who are terminated, this is a kind of collapse that, suddenly, immediately separates those who are relegated to the afterlife from those who will stay. Survivors marvel at their luck, mourn their lost colleagues (if they like them), and worry about who will be next. All were united in fear that Tom Mota, an avid emailer and fan of gun magazines, might return to work on scores after he lost his job.

The second issue that drives the story is that Lynn Mason, always the object of attraction and even reverence by her minions, has breast cancer, although she doesn’t mention this to any Who. It’s just one of those things, like a lot of common knowledge, that everyone in that place knows. The men and women she is forced to fire will have an afterlife, but that is not yet certain for her.

These events, orchestrated by their brilliant author, provide rich narrative dynamics for one of the finest English-language business novels ever written. But at the heart of Ferris’ achievement is not clever plotting. Instead, it’s the workplace setting he creates and the lively cast of characters he manages to bring to life and difference within it. In keeping with the presumption that the story is being told by an insider, the author reveals on each page the bubbling life behind the facade of business, sex and drinking and self-loathing, Pent-up aggression and tiny status symbols have become the focus of such effort and envy.

In other words, Ferris is a comic book anthropologist, and the human dynamics of the workplace he depicts, even though it’s been two decades now, says a lot for us about that. problems that managers face in so many workplaces today. Advertising, once a reliable backdrop for pious waving about the evils of business, is now an apt metaphor for the nature of the work most of us do.

Ferris is a comic book anthropologist and human dynamics in the workplace that he describes, even though two decades on, says a lot for us about the issues faced by employees. Managers face in many workplaces today.

First and foremost among the issues raised in this novel is the challenge of managing people who are hired to use their imaginations. Ferris writes: “Most days, we are men and women of two souls. They are skeptical of much of what goes on in the workplace, but “no vaccination against camaraderie” arises in the so-called “fire alarm,” when stressful deadlines drag on, and the entire staff worked day and night in the concert. .

“We were so bad and overpaid…,” the narrator admits. “Our interests are astounding in terms of the comprehensiveness and quality of care.” That inevitably makes people wonder if it was all worth it: “We think it might be better to move to India, or go back to nursing school. Do something with people with disabilities or work with our own hands. No one ever acted on these impulses, even though they had daily, sometimes hourly contractions. Instead, we meet in boardrooms to discuss the issues of the day.”

Many other familiar real-world management challenges play out in Ferris’ imaginary workplace, of course, including the pain from all sides of asking for cuts. The personal may not be political, but it certainly filters into the office. Almost everyone seems to know other people’s business, and it’s almost impossible to keep love, lust, friendship, jealousy, and all the rest of our troubled emotions out of our literature. room. One of many subplots involving a married employee caused a coworker to become pregnant.

As in so much of the business literature, the running theme is this: what should we expect from our lives at work? Could it be our primary source of meaning, belonging, identity, stimulation, and reward? It’s for Lynn Mason, who faced cancer in her 40s who has dedicated herself to her work and achieved all of her career goals. But I like David Levinsky, the fictional garment industry mogul, rich from every common fortune except love, she also finds that at the top is loneliness. It is also difficult to face a life-threatening illness.

From the humor of the gallows in the office, the novel almost effortlessly dives into the rife realities of Lynn’s private life, partly drawing strength from its contrast with kinetic skepticism. of what happened before. A successful lawyer named Martin seems to be the only person in Lynn’s life outside of the office, and he seems to live for work, even though the two are having a promising romance when he learn of her diagnosis – and her fear of the hospital. Lynn will surprise us in so many ways, but so will Martin, a seemingly hard-working man whose creativity and tenacity in the face of cancer can be a double-edged sword.

Then We Came to the End is a book full of life, but it is also about things in the end, as its title suggests. In the workplace, it reminds us, death and layoffs are always lurking around. And, sooner or later, one or the other will catch up with us.

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