The Morning News Tournament of Books, sponsored by Powell’s Books, is an annual battle royale amongst the top novels in “literary fiction” published throughout the year. Read more about this year’s tournament »
Then We Came to the Endby JOSHUA FERRIS
Remainderby TOM McCARTHY
A note from the ToB staff: Last fall we asked TMN readers to submit their favorite books of 2007. That list was one of the factors we used to choose the 16 books that ultimately made the Tournament. Now we’re going back to our readers’ favorites one more time.
Fourteen novels have been eliminated from the Tournament so far. From those books we’ve rescued the two that were best loved by TMN readers last yearRemainder and The Savage Detectivesand brought them back in a pair of resurrection duels we call the Zombie Round. In order to get to the finals, Ferris and Diaz will each have to get past a book left for dead: a book that’s hungry for brains.
One of these books I couldn’t stop reading. One I liked a lot, but I could have put it down halfway through. One surprised me for how gripping and otherworldly it was, without giving away the gears. One impressed me with its handiwork, but I was filled more with respect than excitement in the end.
Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End is terrific: humorous and wistful, a touching book about people who work together in an advertising office. It is completely true in my experience. It is very well written. It is so shrewdly structured, I would be flipping back through the pages to see where the trick was. And I love Ferris’s timing, and how much time he takes to observe the articulations of an exchange. Lots of funny parts, lots of great lines; I laughed out loud when a character only spoke with Godfather dialogue. And when I turned the last page, I was sad to let it go, even if it never really gripped me.
McCarthy’s Remainder is dull and plodding for the first 60 pages, and then: blast off. I couldn’t stop reading. It is such a weird novel, I don’t know who I’d recommend it to. There ain’t much in the way of character development, emotional hand-wringing, relational crises, etc. Instead it is so obsessed with its subject, which is its main character’s subject, which has something to do with how we make ourselves seamless with the universe, that I bet either you’re addicted like I was, or you hate it. But sincerely and unexpectedly, I was hooked. I was reading in the street, reading like it was the most interesting thing I’d ever read, and it was, for about two days. I still think about it, which I can’t say for Then We Came to the End.
To their weak points, Ferris’s book is written in the we form, which has the communist effect of equalizing all the characters while rendering them each less unique. Remainder, on the other hand, has very little obvious art in the line (to my mind: A-plus!), but it also stinks of great meaningwhere everything appears to be significant on an interplanetary scale, but the author just doesn’t want to come out and say why exactly.
I can already smell the hate mail. In the end, one I liked and respected and highly recommend, and the other one I just loved like crazy. Zombie voters, we march in step to the finish line. McCarthy to the finals.
|The BBC will be full of hand-wringing, wondering what has happened to today’s youth, and suggesting that they read too many novels and have too easy access to aerosol paint.||Kevin||John||You’ve got to feel bad for Ferris, given that his book won more match-ups than any other in the tourney thus far, receiving props even in defeat, but that’s just the way the Rooster rolls.|