Monday, August 18, 2014

book review: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

The backstory: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris's third novel, is on the 2014 Booker Prize longlist. He's also one of The New Yorker's 20 Under 40. I've previously enjoyed his novel The Unnamed (my review.) 

The basics: Paul O'Rourke has a thriving dental practice in New York City, an obsession with the Boston Red Sox, and a rather pathetic social and love life. When a website for his dental practice appears, he's perplexed. Soon a Facebook page and Twitter profile emerge as well. Paul isn't behind any of them, and he's troubled someone seems to know so much about him and is misrepresenting him as religious.

My thoughts: Paul O'Rourke is an instantly memorable character. He's delightfully (or perhaps annoyingly to some) quirky. He's an alarmingly honest narrator who has no problem talking about himself honestly, and he has strong opinions on everything--from the small to the very big. The two biggest themes in this book are technology and religion. O'Rourke is an unabashed atheist, but even before the religiously-themed imposter posts appear online, he spends a lot of time narrating about religion: "That was a mighty Pascal's Wager: the possibility of eternity in exchange for the limited hours of my one certain go-round."

Much of O'Rourke's early monologues are incredibly humorous: "Her internalization and its institutional disappointments suited a dental office perfectly, where guilt was often our last resort for motivating the masses." Ferris's descriptive writing captures both the individual characters and how O'Rourke views them. This combination is lovely, and I was sad to see it dissipate somewhat as the novel continues. When this novel began, I was enamored. Ferris introduces strong, unique characters and sets the stage for exploring the huge ideas of technology and religion. After this strong start, the novel suffers from some pacing and execution issues. There are moments of brilliance that certainly make this novel worth reading (and wonderful fodder for discussing), but as a total product, I found it overall somewhat lacking.

Favorite passage: "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. I had to borrow those words from an old dead order."

The verdict: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is a victim of its own ideas. Ferris's writing is strong throughout, and it was often what kept my interest. Paul was a fascinating character, but his observations were somewhat uneven over the course of the novel. While Ferris raises many provocative questions and explores ideas of history, technology, and religion, I ultimately found the novel itself both under and over-developed. As I neared the end, I grew bored; I longed for more of a climax. As I turned the last page, I found myself asking, "that's it?" Ultimately, despite strong writing and a plethora of intriguing ideas, I was left wanting much more from Ferris and this novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 341 pages
Publication date: May 13, 2014 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy To Rise Again at a Decent Hour from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Joshua Ferris's website.

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1 comment:

  1. This was a DNF for me, a real disappointment because I was expecting to really like it.


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