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

3 out of 5 misanthropic stars

I couldn’t really give this 4 stars, but I feel bad giving it 3. Let’s say, I got invested. I listened to this as an audiobook, and give the narrator Cambell Scott full marks. He did an amazing job.

Paul O’Rourke is young to be a misanthrope….but that is what I’d call him. He’s in this 30’s, with a successful New York dental practice. He hates everything except for the Redsox. He hates people. He hates the Yankees. He hates the internet and social media, but is addicted to his iPhone (which he calls a Me-Machine). He doesn’t have a website, or Twitter or Facebook. Until one day, he does.

I really enjoyed the beginning of this. Paul is kind of an ass, but he’s a funny ass and has a sad back story. It doesn’t follow traditional narrative, you know, the kind where things happen. This is mostly a character study, but I found it really entertaining in the beginning. He’s an atheist, who can’t seem to stay away from girls with religious families, with whom he becomes unrealistically attached. Despite being an atheist, he is alternately obsessed with Catholicism and Judaism. His interactions with his latest ex’s Uncle Stuart are cringeworthy. Basically, Paul is looking for a replacement for the family he lost – his father committed suicide when he was a child, and his mother is in a home, probably suffering from dementia. These and other stories amuse us, until the patient with the tooth extraction. He insists he doesn’t need any anesthetic, until of course, Paul gets in there with the pliers. Or whatever instrument of torture they use. When the man leaves, he informs Paul he is going to Israel. That he’s an Ulm, and so is Paul. Thinking this is just the drugs, he laughs it off.

Then the website for the practice appears. It even has photos of his employees, and of course, Paul. The photo appears to have been taken ninja style as he left work, and the bio reads like something out of the bible. Like I said, Paul hates social media and is enraged that someone would do this, let alone that something biblical is attached to it. The only thing he has to go on is the name of the company listed at the bottom of the page – I didn’t read it, so I’m not sure how to spell it, and couldn’t find it anywhere. Then a Twitter account using his name and DDS (so clearly, this is not just any Paul C. O’Rourke) appears and begins to spout things similar to the bio page. Then the bio page begins to change, talking about more religious stuff, and the tweets start to sound slightly antisemitic. Nearly blind with rage and frustrated that the law is no help until there are consequences from the identity theft, he reaches out to the mysterious design firm, and starts to get a response.

I can say much more or it will ruin the story. It’s got to do with the Ulms and lost societies. I really did not like that part of the book. The religious stuff got tedious. Paul’s interactions with other people were the best part of the book. He has a very sweet and religious hygienist named Betsy. She’s an older woman who believes everyone can come to Jesus in time, even Paul. Ferris makes use of repetition in really interesting ways – especially when dealing with Betsy. We hear one sided conversations, where Paul doesn’t tell us what he said, only Betsy’s responses, and it’s really funny. He also still employs his former girlfriend, Connie. He tells us the only thing she does is fill out appointment cards for patients. That’s all she does. Just fill out cards. And get the phone. And schedule appointments. But that’s it. That’s all she does. Along with a thousand other little things, not properly noticed until she is called the “Office Manager” by the identity-thieving website. I’d point out that this is evident to anyone with the slightest of observational skills. And so typical of the kind of man and boss that Paul is. He’s mad when Abby, his other hygienist, doesn’t come to work because she has an audition, which she never tells him about. Of course, he doesn’t even notice there’s a temp in her place until he needs to ask her a question.

So the best and worst I can say of this is that it was interesting. I disliked the ending. I didn’t like the way the religious stuff took over the story. But that is also the crux of the whole thing. It’s the only reason we listen to Paul C. O’Rourke, DDS.’s story at all. It does end on a slightly hopeful note. And I appreciate a hopeful note.

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