To Rise Again at a Decent Hour: A Novel by Joshua Ferris (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014. 352 pp)

Joshua Ferris is the author of two previos novels, Then We Came to the End and The Unnamed. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, and The Best American Short Stories. Ferris was chosen for The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” list of fiction writers in 2010. He Lives in New York

Modernity Examined

The modern world offers an exorbitant amount of preposterousness when considered deeply. We’re an advanced culture that’s been able to push past the limitations of Babel, and yet we don’t want to go beyond “good morning” with our co-workers, people we see forty plus hours each week. What it means to be social has more to do with the carefully curated profile lodged away in some server farm in Northern California rather than a cup of coffee with a friend.

We live this way. For the most part we choose to live this way. And yet is it authentic? Is it life as it’s meant to be lived?

Approaching these ideas through the lens of absurdist humor, Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again at a Decent Hour makes you want to laugh and cry all within the same sentence.

Living Paradoxically

Set in New York in 2012, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour follows the path of a dentist named Paul O’Rourke. An odd character, Paul lives paradoxically. He refuses to bring his dental practice into modernity through a website and a social media presence. He’s not very hip with the Internet lingo:

“My relationship with the Internet was like the one I had with the :). I hated the 🙂 and hated to be the object of other people’s :), their 🙂 and their :>. I hated :-)) the most because it reminded me of my double chin. Then there was 🙁 and 🙁 as well as 😉 and *-), which I didn’t even understand, although it was not as mystifying as D:< or >:O or :-&. These simplifications of speech, designed by idiots, resulted in hieroglyphics of such compounded complexity that they flew far above my intelligence” (73).

And yet Paul possesses an instinctual urge to look at his iPhone 24-7—he even calls it the “me machine.”

Most of his recreational time surrounds the Boston Red Sox, a team to which he has devoted his life, even if the recent World Series success has led him into a bitter mood, almost as if he prefers the down-on-your-luck culture that permeated Boston fans for decades past.

Even more, Paul obsesses over his romantic interests, to the point where he romanticizes his inclusion in the love interest’s family and things get pretty weird.

And finally, Paul is an avowed atheist that can’t help but be intrigued about the nature of God—or at least the institutions belief provides

“The most unfortunate thing about being an atheist wasn’t the loss of God and all the comfort and reassurance of God—no small things—but the loss of a vital human vocabulary. Grace, charity, transcendence: I felt them as surely as any believer, even if we differed on the ultimate cause, and yet I had no right words for them” (114).

Perhaps the faith component influences Paul’s obsessions over the family unit—he’s attracted to Catholic and Jewish traditions in particular.

Identity Theft

Given his high-strung, complex nature, Paul does not take kindly to an anonymously created website in his practice’s name.

When the website and other social media platforms become an avenue for preaching a recherché theology based on the biblical genocide of the Amalekites, Paul reacts with equal parts rage and intrigue.

“The things written in my name seemed to carry significance, some ancient charge. If I didn’t turn away with rage, I would have turned away with…what? Embarrassment, I guess. An absurd sense of responsibility. It wasn’t the real Paul C. O’Rourke talking. It was an imposter, a more determined and mysterious Paul C. O’Rourke who, unlike me, had something urgent to say” (94-95).

What follows is comedic and harrowing journey as Paul unravels the source of his psuedonymic online presence.

Certainly There’s More to Life!

Thematically, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour explores the tension in Paul’s personality, linking it to the contradictory nature of life as a whole. Paul constantly struggles with identity and concentration on the other.

“Sometimes I thought myself fully present when in fact I was so coiled up inside my own head that I was blind to whatever was happening before my very eyes” (239).

He loses love interests, friends, and employees due to his dense nature and his tendency toward online interaction.

Isn’t that a problem we all face? It can be pretty easy to go a week without any interaction outside of liking a post on Instagram. Certainly there’s more to life!

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour: A Novel is an excellent book full of wit and philosophy. Well recommended!

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

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