Reviews — From the June 2014 issue

Stalking Back

Joshua Ferris’s half-baked novel of ideas

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To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris. Little, Brown. 352 pages. $26. littlebrown.com.

Among the many impressive things about Then We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris’s first novel, was the coolly assured way it matched form to content. Most debuts (most novels, in fact) fumble uncertainly toward the right method for displaying their particular goods, but Ferris seemed to know in advance exactly how to tell his bittersweet tale of life and death in a Chicago advertising office. An epigraph from Emerson, stating that the worst thing that can happen to a human being is “not to be reckoned one character . . . but to be reckoned in the gross, in the hundred, or the thousand,” underpinned the key narrative decision: to have an anonymous narrator tell the story in the first-person plural. This spectral presence — a kind of collective office ego — rendered the characters slightly flattened, slightly smaller than life, which neatly supported Ferris’s central insight into the infantilizing effect of corporate culture on its personnel. It also gave just the right edge of humor to the anecdotes of cubicle life that formed the bulk of the novel, making even the most studiedly low-key among them feel momentous. Add to this Ferris’s unexpected and very touching sympathy with the objects of his satire, and the book’s enormous success begins to seem not only deserved but inevitable. It delivered the white-collar soul, in all its dimly comprehended anguish, its wistful resignation to its own tameness, as wittily and poignantly as anything I’ve seen in recent years.

The stylized but essentially realist approach of that book was stretched toward a more fabulist mode in the follow-up, The Unnamed. That story features another corporate man rattling his cage, only this time not through the scrupulously plausible rebellions of the earlier book but through strange periodic urges to go off on long walks around the suburbs of New York City and beyond, striding unstoppably until he passes out.

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’s most recent book is Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). His article “Unbuilt Jerusalem” appeared in the April 2011 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

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