I want to talk about Joshua Ferris's wonderful novel Then We Came to the End in a little bit. But first, I want to talk about something I just learned because I read this book. I want to talk about abridgment.
I've always avoided abridged works. As an author, I would feel insulted having my work butchered AFTER it had been chopped to pieces for years and deemed publishable. If a work needs further editing, this should be done before publication. I get it: the publisher knows a work is too large or too difficult to attain mass appeal, so they simplify it and sell more copies. It's all about sales.
Now for years, I had it in my head that abridgment nixed unnecessary words and scenes, that it was a fairly gentle process that remedied an author's diarrhea of the pen. I still didn't agree with the process of abridging a work, but I didn't see how it could cause that much harm. Then I downloaded an audio copy of Then We Came to the End.
Something didn't seem right about my newly downloaded copy of Ferris's novel. The runtime showed as six hours. There was no way this 400-page book could be read in less time than an average night of sleep. I looked a little deeper and discovered that naughty word: ABRIDGED. Fortunately, I had a copy of the print book on hand, so I wasn't worried. Then I had an idea: What if I listened to the abridged audio as I read along? I would finally know what “abridged” really meant. So that's what I did.
What did I learn? Abridgment is not the deletion of “unnecessary words and scenes.” Abridgment is straight up altering an author's work to be more palatable. Characters are completely removed from the book. Riveting scenes are cut. Chronology is changed. The theme is lost. In Then We Came to the End, dynamics were completely changed when one or two characters were completely removed from a scene. Dialogue that is important to the story is stripped from the mouth of a character who has been eliminated only to be placed willy-nilly into the mouth of another. What were some of the things lost to abridgment in Then We Came to the End? The office shooting. Old Brizz and the totem. Martin's blindfolding of Lynn—the single act of which propels a dislikable character into a decent human being. Carl Garbedian. Any and all mention of these things, amongst many others, was stripped from the abridged version. The result is a disjointed office novel entirely about Lynn Mason's cancer. This isn't mere omission—it's blatant alteration.
So I say all that to say this. Abridgment is wack. If you read this novel, don't read the abridged version. You'll be missing out on some of this novel's best parts. If you've read this novel and don't have any idea what I'm talking about when I mention the office shooting, then you were probably bamboozled by an abridged copy, and I'm sorry.
Let's put all that mess behind us now...
Then We Came to the End is not an easy novel. For so much of its opening third, it seems like nothing more than ridiculous vignettes of office satire. It's not all that brilliant, or eye-opening, or even coherent. There are some laughs and some eye rolls, but it all feels strangely genuine.
It's easy to give up on Then We Came to the End. It can feel like it's going nowhere, and while there are fun and games in the first half, imagining a whole book with nothing else to offer can be a deterrent. For some readers, giving up would be a mistake. In my opinion, TWCttE is worth the initial investment. I do, however, recognize that this book is definitely not for all readers. Some will find the novel tedious and pointless regardless of its redeeming qualities.
The absurdity that carries the story in the first half gives way to a thread of sadness that grows thicker as the end nears. TWCttE becomes a somewhat dark book, enshrouded in absurdity, but bursting with feeling. Despite whatever annoyances you may have for these characters in the beginning, there's a strong chance that by the end, you'll be rooting for them. It's almost as though Ferris has in this novel created a parallel to the actual office experience. Sure, you can't stand most of your coworkers, but after being in a tight space with them for years, you may begin to sympathize with them (well, some of them, anyway).
From the midpoint forward, Then We Came to the End delivers both captivating and touching moments. Most importantly, through everything, it feels truly genuine. This is particularly true in the novel's conclusion. Then We Came to the End isn't an easy read and it's definitely not a read everyone will enjoy, but it will certainly reward some of those who stick with it—that is, assuming they're reading the unabridged novel.