The Morning News

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 »

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Powell's Books


March 27, 2008

Then We Came to the End




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 year—Remainder and The Savage Detectives—and 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 meaning—where 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.

• Today’s WINNER •


• About the Judge •

TMN Co-Editor in Chief Rosecrans Baldwin lives in Paris, France. He co-founded The Morning News with Andrew Womack in 1999 and has been waking up at 6 a.m. ever since. His personal web site is useless. Someday his ashes will be tossed off Mount Desert Island. His stories have elsewhere appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, and on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” He also used to write a column for Travel & Leisure Golf, having played golf once, and a column for American Express’s Black Ink, a private magazine for the wealthy, despite his lack of wealth. Connections to this year’s competitors: “Occasional emails with Jonathan Lethem, otherwise nada.”

• From the Booth •

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.
» Read Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner’s commentary on the match «

• The Peanut Gallery •

Do you agree with the outcome of this match?

absolutely   no way

The Standings


• Round One •

Tree of Smoke v. Ovenman
judged by Tobias Seamon

The Savage Detectives v. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name
judged by Elizabeth Kiem

Then We Came to the End v. Petropolis
judged by Anthony Doerr

You Don’t Love Me Yet v. New England White
judged by Jessica Francis Kane

Run v. Shining at the Bottom of the Sea
judged by Kate Schlegel

What the Dead Know v. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
judged by Elizabeth McCracken

On Chesil Beach v. Remainder
judged by Ze Frank

The Shadow Catcher v. An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England
judged by Helen DeWitt

• Round Two •

Tree of Smoke v. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name
judged by Mark Sarvas

Then We Came to the End v. You Don’t Love Me Yet
judged by Maud Newton

Shining at the Bottom of the Sea v. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
judged by Ted Genoways

Remainder v. The Shadow Catcher
judged by Mark Liberman


Tree of Smoke v. Then We Came to the End
judged by Gary Shteyngart

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao v. The Shadow Catcher
judged by Nick Hornby


Then We Came to the End v. Remainder
judged by Rosecrans Baldwin

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao v. The Savage Detectives
judged by Andrew Womack


Remainder v. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
All Judges + Jennifer Szalai