To rise again at a decent hour by joshua ferris

little, Brown and Company, 2014; 352 pages
Reviewed by Winnie Khaw

 

“Floss[ing],” remarks excellent dentist, rabid Red Sox fan, questionable/questioning atheist, and protagonist Paul C. O’Rourke, “[is] time-consuming and and a general pain in the ass.” So too is To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, a novel shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, by National Book Award Finalist Joshua Ferris.

When his online identity is stolen, this questionable/questioning atheist goes on an existential journey, at first to find out who has violated his privacy and why, but the search becomes, or is supposed to become, a quest leading to self-discovery. The overall idea is much better than the actual execution. 

O’Rourke is an ignorant bigot prone to incredibly offensive rants, spouting strings of weird nonsense, on religion and life in general, whether with the obsequious desire to please or obsessively self-focused bitterness. In a more sympathetic light, O’Rourke also appears severely depressed and deprived of any means of consolation, wondering “why was I always on the outside looking in, always alien to the in?” His father committed suicide, and the two romantic relationships he had, failed miserably.

The above mentioned main plot threads, while rather interesting-soundings eparately, utterly disappoint in their half-hearted integration into a whole story, itself an unspectacular effort to unravel the mysteries of life.

Generally categorized as humor and satire, To Rise Again is hurtfully unfunny, even considering the many grotesque descriptions of how “the mouth is a weird place ...  [at times] the picture of inconceivable self-neglect and unnecessary pain.”

Ferris’ work here is a pointless exercise in a writer’s self-indulgence--to read through 300+ pages of Paul O’Rourke’s meaningless existence is to ask rhetorically, as Betsy does to O’Rourke during one of his ravings, “Are you quite finished now? This is turning out to be one of the longest ordeals of my life.”