Monday, July 20, 2015

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris

Paul O'Rourke is a dentist; he lives in Manhattan, loves the Boston Red Sox but resents the new fans who came to the team after their World Series victory in 2004, and is always searching for something that could be "everything." Damaged by his bipolar father's suicide, he longs to be part of a large close-knit family, like those of his one-time girlfriends (one family was Catholic, the other Jewish) but cannot commit to a relationship. He is an atheist prone to "Hitchensian rants" and treats the women who work for him horribly. In short, he's a sad human being.

Then Paul discovers that someone has created a website for his dental practice; his bio on the website includes strange quotations from a source called the Cantaveticles, apparently a sacred text of unknown origin. Soon, someone is posting comments under Dr. O'Rourke's name on a wide variety of websites. The posts claim O'Rourke is a descendent of the Ulms, ancient enemies of the Jews. Paul spends a great deal of his time on his "me machine" (smartphone) trying to figure out who has appropriated his online identity; eventually, he is drawn into a group of people who believe themselves to be descendents of the Ulms and who make a religion of doubt.

The book is an odd combination of funny (sometimes laugh-out-loud funny) and dull. I had read that the book was about identity theft, a topic I find interesting, but that is not how I would characterize it, which may have affected my response. I admit that whatever point Ferris is trying to make eludes me. For that reason and because the tedious parts of the novel (pretty much anything about the Ulms and religion, real or faux) outweighed the humor for me, I would not recommend To Rise Again at a Decent Hour.

Favorite passage

Baseball is the slow creation of something beautiful. it is the almost boringly paced accumulation of what seems slight or incidental into an opera of bracing suspense. . . . it's the drowsy metamorphosis of the dull into the indescribable.  [Somehow I suspect Ferris thinks this would also describe his novel, but the metamorphosis never quite happened for me.]

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