To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars on Goodreads, please join me there!
I started this book with trepidation given the widely varying reviews here and elsewhere --everything from groundbreaking, to boring, to "why bother," with more then a few readers commenting on the specific audience required to appreciate this novel. I found the latter to be not of major concern. So, here goes:
The set up (courtesy LA Times)
"Paul O'Rourke is a quintessentially contemporary protagonist — of a certain sort. He's a dentist, and a good one, with a practice on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and a condo overlooking the Brooklyn Promenade. He's a Red Sox fan, wrestling with the unexpected letdown of his team having won the 2004 World Series, a victory that, in some essential way, has left him bereft.
"I didn't want my team to lose," he notes; "I just didn't want my team to be the de facto winner.... The days of trembling uncertainty, chronic disappointment, and tested loyalty — true fandom — felt vitally lacking." As to why this is important, it's an expression of identity, framing Paul as part of "a cursed and collapsing people," scorned, neglected, their very purpose one of degradation and of loss.
Paul is, like so many of us, lost in modernity, surrounded by choices but unable to connect. His relationships are fleeting, overly idealized; they end as soon as they get real.
This posture of rootlessness, of drift, occupies the center of Joshua Ferris' third novel, "To Rise Again at a Decent Hour," which Paul narrates with an offhand grace. He is, like so many of us, lost in modernity, surrounded by choices but unable to connect.
What I Loved
Ferris is clearly a talented writer, so I had enough motivation from the crispy dialogue and "dance" of sad-funny-satirical moments at the dentist office Paul presides over to keep reading.
The originality of the characters, story, and plot, deserve merit here. When everyone else is writing about disappearing spouses and relatives, the idea of Paul being taken over by an online identity that suddenly provides him with a website, as well as Twitter and Facebook profiles, and posts all kinds of commentary and religious dogma, is pure techno genius, and so right-on in the era of digital reliance. I also felt the dialogue rang true for the most part, and Ferris does a great job interweaving New York City and the Brooklyn promenade, not to mention dentistry and imaginatively fabricated religious secs, as key vehicles for his story.
On the Challenging Side:
The long religious passages were tough to stick with, and may lose readers who weren't prepared for them. I see why Ferris felt he needed to do this, as his religious identity is one of the key plot points, but they were just too long and I found myself skimming them so as to get to the relationships and faster moving sections.
I wanted to be rooting more for Paul, but in the end I don't think I was as excited about his self-discovery as the author wanted me to be, nor did I end up feeling that religion was necessarily what Paul needed in the end, although his Rothian breakdown and frustration with modern times is convincingly rendered. I tend to read more women writers with women protagonists then men, so perhaps I just didn't identify enough with Paul's "guyness," baseball obsession and all.
Summary: if you are a patient reader and like a lot of philosophy and religious curiosity mixed into your fiction, this book is for you. It's also worth the read for probably one of the best extended descriptions of a woman putting her hair into a ponytail that I've ever read. The inclusion of life's little touches like this one help counterbalance the frequent not-for-the-squeamish dental "extractions."
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