Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: "To Rise Again at a Decent Hour" by Joshua Ferris

I have been a huge fan of Joshua Ferris for quite some time. I feel his fist novel, Then We Came to the End, which uses a first person plural narration, adds great humanity, poetry and grandeur to the life of an office jockey. His second novel, The Unnamed, takes the silly premise of walking disease and makes a heartfelt romance out of it that never seems phony or tawdry. But his recent novel released this year, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, may be his best book yet. It has a really interesting premise, a narrator who is interesting with a conflict that is equally so, and supporting cast of characters that add humor and emotion to the setting. All that is good, but what really makes this book special is how transcendent it is. There are moments here, sometimes one on top of the other that are breathtakingly moving. Maybe it is just from my personal experiences as of late, but I found a real connection with certain moments in this book, and found myself touched. Ferris has always been good with that, but the framework that he decided to use for this novel, which I will talk about, is something very different for him, judging by his last two novels, and something, when I first read about it, I didn’t think he would be able to pull off. But he accomplishes the impossible, juggling unfamiliar themes with ones he has mastered without dropping the ball once. The focus of this novel is Dr. Paul O’Rourke, a middle-aged dentist whose life has been forcefully narrowed down to his patients, his obsession with the Boston Red Sox and what can only be described as his active atheism. He is still in love with Connie, his ex-girlfriend and receptionist at his office, and constantly seems to be making life miserable for anyone unlucky enough to care about him. But soon, Paul’s life becomes even more confusing when he finds a website, a Facebook profile and a Twitter account in his name. Paul, an ardent detractor of technology (he calls all of the smartphones that his patients and employees have “me-machines”), has none of these things, and searches for a way to get rid of them, and it is a search that leads him to the discovery of an ancient lost tribe of people called the “ulms”, whose doctrine revolves around the doubting of God, as well as his past relationships, which all ended badly due to his inability to not say the wrong thing at the wrong moment. This book is quite funny as well, with a scene where Paul is accused of having “cave-dwellers” (boogers) in an online review sure to produce a chuckle. But where Ferris really nails it is in his ideas of religion, which is the subject I didn’t think he could tackle very well, but he does so in a way that I have not seen any other writer do, leading to a final scene that is so touching I had to stop reading and audibly express myself. This is a truly humane novel about the heart of all faith, and the personal improvement that can come from looking outward instead of inward and from helping others, all from one of America’s most gifted writers.

Rating: 5/5

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