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So Long, Shamy


A recent announcement of layoffs at the Burlington Free Press reminds me of Then We Came to the End, a fascinating new novel about, among other things, workplace paranoia in a time of mass layoffs. I just finished the book, so it's on my mind.

A first effort by Brooklyn-based Joshua Ferris, the novel almost won last year's National Book Award for fiction. It's set in the early aughts at a Chicago advertising agency, and it's damn funny.

It's also, in a surprising way, moving. From the opening pages, we know that said ad firm is headed down the tubes. But, even as they traverse a clearly telegraphed plot line, Ferris' characters — most of whom are preoccupied by water-cooler jokes and silly office rivalries — manage to hold our attention for hundreds of pages. I suppose it's because Ferris finds a way of making them seem like heroes. Pathetic, spiteful heroes, but heroes you eventually grow to admire.

Come to think of it, Ed Shamy would, against his will, probably have made a good character in Ferris' dark satire. Like the office workers in Then We Came to the End, the recently laid-off Free Press columnist is crass, silly and evidently under-appreciated by his higher-ups. But he's also — bear with me here — sentimental enough to the point where you occasionally find yourself sympathizing with him.

I can't say I've enjoyed reading Ed Shamy's column, but I'm already feeling as nostalgic for it as I do for the tragic office-ites of Ferris' morose, corporate kingdom.

(For a quick sampling of Ferris' fiction, check out his August 11 short story in the New Yorker. For a review of his novel, see this pretty good one in the New York Times.)