To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
Emma Thompson just reported that she’d rather have a root canal than join Twitter. Most Americans rank dental visits just one slot lower than public speaking on their hated-things-to-do list. Dentists, statistically, have the highest suicide rate among professionals. In addition, coming-of-age stories are usually kept for the under-20 crowd. Still, with these many caveats, in TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR, Joshua Ferris’s protagonist is a 40-year-old dentist we eventually care about, as he learns to care about himself.
Paul O’Rourke lives in Brooklyn, and his dental practice is off Park Avenue. After designing an office space that eliminated a private office, he spent the last 10 years “killing himself with five chairs in five rooms while complaining about a lack of privacy and raking in tons of money.” Paul is an avowed Boston Red Sox fan, and his ritual chicken dinners, taping of the games, stepping out for the sixth inning --- all perfectly choreographed to assure a win --- both surprised and disappointed him in 2004 when Boston won the World Series.
"Joshua Ferris leads his dentist into a Kafkaesque world and brings him out a kinder, more decent man."
Paul has been in love four times in his life, and the unmitigated passion he feels for each love is reviewed. He watches Connie, his current office assistant and former lover, while she puts on lotion at her desk. We are drawn in by her hands, “lubed animals doing a mating dance.” He goes on and on about the wet sensation that refuses to go away, even after the last dollops of lotion are gone. A description such as this reveals perhaps what a good dentist Paul is: incredible attention to the details of his patients’ mouths and gums, and the ever-hopeful, always-realistic advice to floss. Floss. Floss. And you’ll be fine, knowing full well that flossing is a fight against the unknown.
Much like flossing, Paul believed that change, “genuine self-improvement, actual fundamental change, was exceedingly rare. This concept of change for the better had myth-like qualities, not unlike belief in a divine Creator.He explains each of the earlier love affairs and tells how it feels to be gripped --- hard --- by love. The dissolution of each of these relationships is wildly and pathetically funny.
Paul’s life is about to change. Slowly, disbelievingly, he discovers that someone is using his identity. He explains to a cyberlaw expert, “They’ve created a website for my practice, started a Facebook page, took unauthorized photographs of me, and now they’re using my name to comment all over the Internet, implicating me in some kind of religion, and the only legal claim I can make is to being irritated.” He fights against the unknown, not knowing how to fight except with ever-increasingly uncivilized correspondence. That tactic leads only to additional postings, making him sound like an anti-Semite, all the while still sounding very much like himself.
Paul also sees that his religion is listed as “Ulm.” He recalls a former patient, Al Frushtick, who left six months earlier to go to Israel. He said, as he was leaving Paul’s office still under the effects of the gas, “I’m an Ulm, and so are you!” Al now returns and explains that the pilgrimage to Israel did not materialize. However, Paul has been identified for investigation, and the violation of his privacy and self is part of a huge plan to manipulate him into searching deeper and deeper within himself. The posts also contain biblical-sounding references to the cantonments of the Cantaveticles, and Paul traces the stories and his relationship to them through a variety of New Yorkers.
We can hear a smattering of Woody Allen’s voice through Paul’s early descriptions, obsession with details and random dialogues. But mostly, Joshua Ferris leads his dentist into a Kafkaesque world and brings him out a kinder, more decent man.
Reviewed by Jane Krebs on May 30, 2014
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
- Publication Date: March 10, 2015
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Back Bay Books
- ISBN-10: 0316033995
- ISBN-13: 9780316033992