In a wonderfully comic first novel, Then We Came to the End (Little, Brown), Joshua Ferris selects the surreal world of a Chicago advertising agency to reveal some larger truths about corporate American life. Ferris focuses on the near insanity of daily office experience: fantastic maneuverings to acquire a better chair, photocopying entire books to read at one's desk in lieu of work, surreptitious Internet porn adventures—relief from days punctuated by boredom, resentment, and absurdity. Looking out at the tops of other office buildings "made us 'happy,'" the unnamed narrator says, the quotes on the final word telling you a good deal about Ferris's unrelenting and brilliant sense of irony. The agency is undergoing that particular reign of terror we gently call downsizing, and the plot hangs on one axed copywriter's deranged reaction, along with an impossible pro bono campaign in which the agency must create upliftingly "funny" advertising for breast cancer awareness. Ferris masters all this with a subtle technical skill in which inane office patter becomes a kind of joyous celebration of the possibilities of prose. He knows, like other masters of the form, that great comedy has a hard bite.