To Rise Again At A Decent Hour - Joshua Ferris

Genre: Fiction
Synopsis:  Paul O'Rourke - dentist extraordinaire, reluctant New Yorker, avowed atheist, disaffected Red Sox fan, and a connoisseur of the afternoon mochaccino - is a man out of touch with modern life. While his dental practice occupies his days, his nights are filled with darker thoughts, as he alternately marvels at and rails against the optimism of the rest of humanity. So it goes, until someone begins to impersonate Paul online. What began as an outrageous violation of privacy soon becomes something far more soul-frightening: the possibility that the virtual 'Paul' might be a better version of the man in the flesh . . .


Review: This book was a slow-starter for me, and only 40 or so pages in, I wasn't sure the meandering inner monologues of Paul O'Rourke would be sufficiently interesting to retain my attention. Although the prose is extremely dense, it is also beautiful, darkly comedic and frequently quotable. Though I'm not sure what exactly it was, something did click into place. I don't feel the synopsis does the novel justice, suggesting (I'd imagine) to others what it suggested to me - some sort of modern thriller with undertones of Poe's Wilson Wilson if lucky. That isn't what it's about at all. Paul is a socially isolated soul, suffering from a perpetual existential crisis in a world of which he seems to be more aware than most people, but from which he is disconnected. He wonders at the gap between him and the rest of humanity - a whole unit that seem to have something figured out - perhaps their belief in god or some other higher power - which he lacks, and tries to fill with a baseball obsession and his work as a dentist.

The synopsis does not mention the fundamental involvement of religion in this novel - an alleged historically forgotten, ethnically-distinct religious group, the Ulms, descended from the Amalekites, a brutally cruel people in the eyes of the Jewish. Paul's online alter ego espouses the beliefs of this group on Twitter, Facebook, and various internet forums, eliciting accusations of anti-semitism, and also asserts Paul's genetic tie to it. As Paul engages with and tries to understand this bewildering parody of himself, he recounts to the reader his interactions with religion via his past relationships with women from devoutly Catholic and Jewish families. He contemplates the point of religion, the relevance of God to people who act - as people, towards other people - without any apparent intervention from God at all. A man from a broken family, he loves the sense of familial community among these believers and wonders is it enough to love the religion that holds them together, without believing in God himself.

There were many moments that I found Paul extremely relatable when articulating the nature of his isolation and how it feels to be disconnected; how it feels to yearn for something that gives one purpose and makes life worthwhile, despite the futility of everything in the face of mortality. None of the characters except Paul take on any more life than necessary to provide reasons for, and counters to, his attitudes and beliefs, but it works. And the existential deliberation that Ferris embarks on in this novel is weirdly presented, with one of the most unusual, circuitous manners I've ever encountered; it is simply wonderful to read. A demanding novel, but one which I ultimately found immensely rewarding.

Rating: 5/5

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