To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is a story of contradictions, which perhaps explains why I’ve been having trouble getting started on this review. I liked this novel, but I’m sort of at a loss to explain what I liked about it. Maybe it’s the darkly comic tone of the novel, or the interplay of characters. But mostly I think it’s because it raises a bunch of philosophical questions that it doesn’t really ever answer, and I’m a sucker for that. (Note, if that kind of thing annoys you, this book might not be your cup of tea.)
Paul O’Rourke is a New York dentist who himself is a bundle of contradictions. He is an atheist, but he latches onto the religion of whatever woman he is dating at the time. He loves the Red Sox, yet he moves to New York to see, in his own words, what kind of city would create a monster like a Yankee fan. He revels in misery; although he’s devoted to his Sox, he can’t help being mildly disappointed since their 2004 World Series victory, when they forever snatched away his identity as long-suffering fan. He is critical of technology (smart phones are “me-machines” in his opinion), yet his attempt to go offline permanently lasts a day. He’s self-centered, neurotic, and nihilistic, yet semi-likable, in the way you sort of like a jerk who can make you laugh occasionally.
Paul’s routine and identity, which are unfulfilling but safe, get thrown into complete turmoil when someone creates a fake website for his dental practice and begins impersonating him online. Not content to explore the legal avenues at his disposal, Paul becomes obsessed with emailing the perpetrator, essentially condemning himself to a flame-war with the stranger who stole his identity. Most troubling to him is that the impostor seems to be promoting a weird religion that nobody has heard of, posting comments that are at best controversial, and at worst anti-Semitic. Paul’s ex-girlfriend Connie, who works in his office and happens to be Jewish, is not amused. Paul is furious, and yet he’s drawn to this stranger. . . .in spite of himself, he’s looking for answers.
Ultimately, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is a story of religion and identity and one man’s search to find his place in the world. This is the first novel I’ve read by Joshua Ferris, and while I did feel like the pace fell during the last third of the book, I’m intrigued enough to want to read more by this author. Then We Came to the End is now on my must-read list.