This novel is a study in character development. If any fiction writers (or readers) want to see what fully fleshed-out, characters look like — real human beings with all of human beings’ complexities, but rendered by an artist’s hand — read this.
Ferris’ choice for a setting and a plot is relevant today. For those of us who lived through the late nineties/early aughts boom and bust, be it in advertising, like in this novel, or in IT or in anything else, we know that it was a time of mass delusion. We were all told that it was the new economy, that the old economy rules (like math) no longer applied, and we all willingly bought into it because the new economy brought with it a new currency of dreams, and these dreams brought out the dreamers in us all. Dreams are filled with surrealist images and peopled with the most interesting characters imaginable because we imagined them.
We knew people who declared themselves investment wizards because they had managed to make a little bit of money in the greatest bull market in American history. We knew the guy who boasted that he was “always even” with his investment portfolio because he had put 150 stocks into it, thereby creating his own index fund but with a million times the risk of the S&P 500. We knew the people in their late twenties who planned to retire in a couple years and put all of their money into flipping houses. It was a time of telling our clients that it was a great idea to sell farming equipment online to farmers who didn’t have internet connections. It was a time of dining at the finest restaurants in South Beach every night on filet and Macallan, on the client’s dime, for a client who never had any intention of paying us.
When the bust came, we were all shocked. It was a new economy and the old rules didn’t apply. Instead of learning our lesson, we funneled our dreams, our stake in the mass delusion, into the most inflated real estate market in US history.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how funny this book is, or how the author uses humor as a plot point. The characters work in an advertising firm, and they are given the daunting task of making cancer funny. They wrack their brains to no avail, and I found myself doing the same as I read it. It reminded me of what I do every day. Isn’t that what all of our lives have become to some degree? Don’t we spend our days trying to make cancer funny? Don’t we read the news and try to find the humor in the daily horrors of the world just so we can get out of bed and drive to work, to a job filled with people who create their own protective realities? I do, but maybe that’s me.