Most of Then We Came to the End takes place inside an ad agency’s office building, especially one particular floor where the copywriters and artists work. (There is an extensive, fictional floor plan of the office space at www.thenwecametotheend.com.) It is the 1990s, when money flowed during the economic upturn brought about by the dot-com revolution. Business was booming. People felt relaxed and secure in their jobs and their futures. However, a few chapters into the novel, the economy is definitely making a turn—a turn toward collapse. The agency is in a bind because jobs are not coming in. The dot-com market was a bubble, and it has burst.
Not all scenes are set inside the office. Some follow the characters to lunch at nondescript restaurants and diners in the downtown Loop section of Chicago. The only home the story visits, though, is Lynn’s, during the few chapters devoted to her life outside the office.
The focus on the office setting underscores the limited knowledge that characters have of each other. Although they spend eight-plus hours a day together, they know very little about their colleagues’ private lives, just as readers know very little of the characters besides what they do at work. The division of the working space into small offices and cubicles also highlights the characters’ isolation from one another, typical of the corporate world.