I had really high hopes for this book, as I really enjoyed Joshua Ferris‘s last book The Unnamed, which was about a man who found himself compulsively walking days on end, therefore eventually destroying his life because he was unable to stop. Interesting premise right? Well, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour doesn’t have a hook like that-it’s essentially about a middle-aged, lonely dentist who has an existential crisis that lasts about 300 pages.
Perhaps if I was a different person, one who enjoyed baseball (I don’t), theological discussions (I don’t) or ancient history (I don’t like that either) I would have found this book more compelling. But I didn’t, so when I look back on my experience of reading it, I generally recall being very bored.
I guess that isn’t entirely true-there are quite a few laugh-out-loud parts, because the protagonist/dentist Paul O’Rourke is really funny. He doesn’t always mean to be, but he’s got some good quips throughout the narrative. And although it’s difficult to admit this, he did remind me of myself at times. For instance, he calls cellphones ‘me-machines’, because he dislikes people’s obsession with them. For those of you that know me personally, you would recognize the fact that I would wholeheartedly agree with this (see meme below). I’m of the opinion that people spend more time on their phones discussing their own life rather than simply living it, but I digress.
The dialogue in general is quite funny in this book, so it’s not all bad. Ferris uses this really interesting way of recounting a conversation between two characters by only recording what one person said, and then simply implying what the other character said, like this:
“Why must you always be reading your phone?” I’d tell her, she’d say “If you know it is merely a distraction from the many things you don’t want to think about, why let yourself be a slave to it?” I’d tell her, she’d say “That is the most blasphemous thing I have ever heard.” (p. 104)
This book focuses quite a bit on religion, its effect on people, the root of belief and ritual of religion. What I found strange about the storyline is that Paul is surrounded by religion throughout his life, including very religious people themselves, and yet he doesn’t spent a lot of time really questioning whether he has his own religious beliefs, he simply follows what other people are doing so he can feel a part of something. Maybe that’s the irony that I’m just figuring out now, and Ferris created this dichotomy for that express purpose-so the readers would arrive at the same conclusion I just did. Is Ferris trying to say that religion is simply a comfort for those who want to belong? I have no idea to be quite honest, I feel like that kind of book analysis is a little too lofty for my tastes and intentions for this blog, but I will point out that it’s these questions and more that will get you thinking if you pick up this book.