To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris

>> Saturday, September 20, 2014

TITLE: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
AUTHOR: Joshua Ferris

PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Little Brown

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Fiction

Paul O'Rourke is a man made of contradictions: he loves the world, but doesn't know how to live in it. He's a Luddite addicted to his iPhone, a dentist with a nicotine habit, a rabid Red Sox fan devastated by their victories, and an atheist not quite willing to let go of God.

Then someone begins to impersonate Paul online, and he watches in horror as a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account are created in his name. What begins as an outrageous violation of his privacy soon becomes something more soul-frightening: the possibility that the online "Paul" might be a better version of the real thing. As Paul's quest to learn why his identity has been stolen deepens, he is forced to confront his troubled past and his uncertain future in a life disturbingly split between the real and the virtual.

At once laugh-out-loud funny about the absurdities of the modern world, and indelibly profound about the eternal questions of the meaning of life, love and truth, TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR is a deeply moving and constantly surprising tour de force.

If there's a type of book that's "Man Booker material", this is not it, at least at first sight. When you actually read it, though, you see why it made it through to the shortlist this year.

To Rise Again At A Decent Hour is about Paul O'Rourke, a New York dentist with a thriving practice and a sense of dissatisfaction with life. His dental surgery is doing great in spite of not having an online presence. And then it does. Someone has created a website for the surgery, and on Paul's bio there's some weird Biblical-sounding mumbo-jumbo. And things escalate. The fake Dr. Paul C. O'Rourke creates all sorts of accounts on social media, and he starts putting out all sorts of weird shit in Paul's name. Fake-Paul is devoted to getting out the word about the Ulm, a lost tribe of Israel even more persecuted than the Jews (in fact, persecuted by the Jews). And before long, Paul is involved in an ever-more-absorbing email exchange with his alter-ego.

This is one truly funny book. Ferris can really write. Some of the dialogue is fantastic, especially Paul's interactions with the people in his surgery. I kept laughing out loud when reading his conversations with Betsey, one of his dental hygienist. We get only her half of the conversation: Paul reports what she said, and then says "I told her." and then what she says back to him, and it works beautifully. Fantastic stuff. Oh, and the way he describes people! So deft, just with a few words.

But this is a comic novel about some very serious things: the meaning of life, no less. Paul is a man desperately in search of something bigger than him, something that will give meaning to his life. His life has been a constant cycle of unsuccesful attempts at devoting himself to all sorts of things that he hopes will do it. Baseball, girlfriends with very religious families, anything will do it. And now he gets drawn into the chance of being part of the select group of the Ulms. Is it any wonder that he finds this irresistible? He's exactly the sort of person who would, atheist or not. But is this actually happening, or is it all in his mind?

This seriousness bangs against the mundane world of Paul's surgery in a way that jars, but at the same time feels quite right. However, I felt the whole thing lacked a sense of resolution. It felt somewhat unfinished, like it just needed something to make the whole thing click properly. I still enjoyed it, but it was not my favourite of the bunch.



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