I am finishing up Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to The End, which was recommended and top-ten-listed by so many people that it almost made me not want to read it.
After reading it, I think Geoff Edgers perhaps summed it up best:
Here is Joshua Ferris in Guardian about the life of work in the history of the novel:
As American literature entered the extravagant and vacuous 1980s,
exemplified in novels like Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities and Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho - which updates the Babbitt myth by turning him into a homicidal sociopath - the pinched lives of those doing means-to-end work best exemplified by Babbitt and Frank Wheeler became de rigueur: of course we all work deadening jobs, of course conformity carries the day. Now let's stop
complaining about it and make some money! The sweet, wholesome conclusions of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit appear quaint - conclusions to pin and label under a glass case. In the face of mergers and acquisitions, an orgy of scandals, powerful financial markets, the concentrated power of corporations and the rise of technology and the internet, the realist can't help but sink under the audacity of real life. The book-about-work becomes either a nostalgic paean
to the working class or, more often, a satirical send-up of greed or the evil corporation.
So what makes for a lasting work literature? If the rise-and-fall paradigm of the commercial novel tends to highlight the moneyed elite, if the novels of social commentary tend to age poorly even when displaying a high degree of prescience, if arch realism about dead-end jobs results in either hopelessness or pat reassurances, and if satire merely lampoons the capitalist enterprise and the characters caught up in it, what sticks?
Ferris suggests two pieces of workplace literature that transcend: The Metamorphosis, and Bartelby, The Scrivener.
Melville, Kafka and Saunders stand out because they don't yield to the familiar or the real. They create highly singular characters who play out idiosyncratic storylines that defy predictability and eschew the burden of Representative Man. Yet they don't fail to look means-to-end work squarely in the eye. There's just no preaching here, no dire warning, no condemnation or historical document. They don't give us merely something to nod along with; they give us something to marvel at. What they offer is invention, cruelty, humour, compassion, artfulness, rebuke, delight - the whole rounded ball of the world, set into orbit by the mechanics of the nine-to-five. Their labour is our reward.