To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

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Overview

A big, brilliant, profoundly observed novel about the mysteries of modern life by National Book Award Finalist Joshua Ferris, one of the most exciting voices of his generation

Paul O'Rourke is a man made of contradictions: he loves the world, but doesn't know how to live in it. He's a Luddite addicted to his iPhone, a dentist with a nicotine habit, a rabid Red Sox fan devastated by their victories, and an ...

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Overview

A big, brilliant, profoundly observed novel about the mysteries of modern life by National Book Award Finalist Joshua Ferris, one of the most exciting voices of his generation

Paul O'Rourke is a man made of contradictions: he loves the world, but doesn't know how to live in it. He's a Luddite addicted to his iPhone, a dentist with a nicotine habit, a rabid Red Sox fan devastated by their victories, and an atheist not quite willing to let go of God.

Then someone begins to impersonate Paul online, and he watches in horror as a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account are created in his name. What begins as an outrageous violation of his privacy soon becomes something more soul-frightening: the possibility that the online "Paul" might be a better version of the real thing. As Paul's quest to learn why his identity has been stolen deepens, he is forced to confront his troubled past and his uncertain future in a life disturbingly split between the real and the virtual.

At once laugh-out-loud funny about the absurdities of the modern world, and indelibly profound about the eternal questions of the meaning of life, love and truth, TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR is a deeply moving and constantly surprising tour de force.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/17/2014
Paul O’Rourke, the main character of Ferris’s (Then We Came to the End) new book, is a dentist. And he’s a good one, informed and informative—even if the mouths that once seemed so erotic have devolved into caves of bacteria, pain, and lurking death. Ferris depicts Paul’s difficulties: in the workplace, he struggles to say good morning, has problems with the office manager (who’s also his ex-girlfriend), and likewise has problems with the devout Catholic hygienist, who can’t see why he doesn’t believe. A constant ruminator and obsessive Red Sox fan, Paul would like to believe and belong, but he can’t. And then the Ulms, who claim to be followers of Amalek (a figure from the Old Testament), hijack his Internet presence and claims him as their own. As an angry and incredulous Paul reads “his” tweets, learns about the unlikely history of the Ulms, and tries to figure out what it all means, readers may find themselves questioning whether the drama of the Ulms amounts to much. Paul is an appealing—albeit self-involved—everyman, but Ferris’s effort to take on big topics (existential doubt, grief, identity, the Internet, the lure and limits of religion, and the struggle to floss in the face of life’s meaninglessness) feels more like a set of thought experiments than an organic or character-driven story. Agent: Julie Barer, Barer Literary. (May)
New Yorker
PRAISE FOR THE UNNAMED:

"A stunner, an unnerving portrait of a man stripped of civilization's defenses. Ferris's prose is brash, extravagant, and, near the end, chillingly beautiful."

Booklist (starred review)
"Utterly compelling. . . . Ferris brilliantly channels the suburban angst of Yates and Cheever for the new millenium."
Gary Shteyngart
"Arresting, ground-shifting, beautiful and tragic. This is the book a new generation of writers will answer to. No one in America writes like this."
Tod Goldberg
"Accomplished and daring."
The Oprah Magazine O
"A portrait of a couple locked in an extreme version of a familiar conflict--the desire to stay together versus an inexplicable yearning to walk away."
VeryShortList.com
"An astonishing and compelling novel."
Laura Miller
"Spellbinding....The Unnamed unfolds in a hushed, shadowed dimension located somewhere between myth and a David Mamet play."
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-03-06
A bizarre case of identity theft forces a dentist to question his beliefs in this funny, thought-provoking return to form by Ferris (The Unnamed, 2010, etc.). In 2011, Paul O'Rourke has a thriving practice on Manhattan's Park Avenue and a throbbing sense that things could be a lot better. His nights are troubled by insomnia and a bed cooled by a recent breakup. His days feature patients who don't floss and three staffers—including his ex—who unsettle him in their own curious ways. As the novel opens, Paul's world quickly goes from bad to weird, and it's clear that Ferris is back in the riff-rich, seriocomic territory of his first novel, Then We Came to the End (2007). A confirmed atheist who sustains a ritualistic devotion to the Boston Red Sox, Paul's romances have exposed him to the tempting fervor and trappings of Catholicism and Judaism. Still, he resists fiercely when a website, a Facebook page and blogging comments mysteriously emerge in his name and he discovers that the man behind them fronts a quasi-Jewish sect founded on the value of doubt: "Behold, make thine heart hallowed by doubt; for God, if God, only God may know." With almost Pynchon-esque complexity, Ferris melds conspiracy and questions of faith in an entertaining way, although his irreverence and crudity in places may offend some readers. Full of life's rough edges, the book resists a neat conclusion, favoring instead a simple scene that is comic perfection—an ending far sweeter than the Red Sox had that year. Strangely astray in The Unnamed, Ferris is back on track here. Smart, sad, hilarious and eloquent, this shows a writer at the top of his game and surpassing the promise of his celebrated debut.
From the Publisher
"To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is beautifully written. It's also funny, thought-provoking, and touching. One hesitates to call it the Catch-22 of dentistry, but it's sort of in that ballpark. Some books simply carry you along on the strength and energy of the author's invention and unique view of the world. This is one of those books."—Stephen King

"This is one of the funniest, saddest, sweetest novels I've read since Then We Came to the End. When historians try to understand our strange, contradictory era, they would be wise to consult To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. It captures what it is to be alive in early 21st-century America like nothing else I've read."—Anthony Marra, author of New York Times bestseller A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

"With almost Pynchon-esque complexity, Ferris melds conspiracy and questions of faith in an entertaining way...Full of life's rough edges, the book resists a neat conclusion, favoring instead a simple scene that is comic perfection... Smart, sad, hilarious and eloquent, this shows a writer at the top of his game and surpassing the promise of his celebrated debut."—Kirkus (Starred Review)

A "wry, intelligent novel that adroitly navigates the borderland between the demands of faith and the persistence of doubt...In seizing upon both the transitory oddities of contemporary life and our enduring search for meaning, Joshua Ferris has created a winning modern parable...He's a gifted satirist with a tender heart, and if he continues to find targets as worthy as the ones he skewers here, his work should amuse and enlighten us for many years to come."—Shelf Awareness

PRAISE FOR THE UNNAMED:

"A stunner, an unnerving portrait of a man stripped of civilization's defenses. Ferris's prose is brash, extravagant, and, near the end, chillingly beautiful."—The New Yorker

"A portrait of a couple locked in an extreme version of a familiar conflict—the desire to stay together versus an inexplicable yearning to walk away."—O, The Oprah Magazine

"Utterly compelling. . . . Ferris brilliantly channels the suburban angst of Yates and Cheever for the new millenium."—Booklist (starred review)

"Audacious, risky, and powerfully bleak, with the author's unflinching artistry its saving grace."—Kirkus (Starred Review)

"Accomplished and daring."—Tod Goldberg, Los Angeles Times

"Spellbinding....The Unnamed unfolds in a hushed, shadowed dimension located somewhere between myth and a David Mamet play."—Laura Miller, Salon.com"Arresting, ground-shifting, beautiful and tragic. This is the book a new generation of writers will answer to. No one in America writes like this."—Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan and The Russian Debutante's Handbook

"An astonishing and compelling novel."—VeryShortList.com

The Barnes & Noble Review

"Is despair an excellence or a defect?" asks Kierkegaard in The Sickness unto Death. "Purely dialectically, it is both." To the despairing man or woman, in other words, is granted a variety of advanced and even aristocratic perceptions and insights — but it feels like hell. Like death. Like being attacked by invisible singing goblins with syringes for fingertips. Not even golf can assuage the pain: "The last ball I putted circled the hole, and the rimming impression it made as it dropped was that of my small life draining into the abyss."

Paul O'Rourke, narrator of Joshua Ferris's To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, is a successful dentist, a failed golfer, a fractured romantic, a Red Sox fan, and a twenty-first-century technocratic human in despair. "Everything was always something, but something — and here was the rub — could never be everything." The glut of stimuli, the radical insufficiency: well, we can all relate to that. Paul's despair is manifest in his work, in the bleeding caverns and ruined bonescapes that are the very texture of his practice, and it is manifest in his allegiance to the Red Sox — which has been made more complicated and difficult by the fact that they are no longer incurable losers. Why doesn't everybody floss? Flossing prevents gum disease; it can prolong your life by up to seven years. Why did the Red Sox have to go and win the World Series, and then win it again, and again? Hope can be a terrible burden sometimes.

And then: something happens. Paul, a preening digiphobe — he disdains gadgets and "me-machines" and is regularly reproached by his head hygienist, Betsy Convoy, for having "no online presence" — discovers that someone has set up not only a Facebook page for "Paul C. O'Rourke" but a rather attractive website for his dental practice. The layout is nice, the information is good, everyone in the office is happy with it, even though no one knows who's responsible. Paul is horrified: "Who would do such a thing? It's disturbing. We should all be very disturbed." He sends a series of increasingly heated emails to "Seir Design," the name that appears at the bottom of the website. "You're ruining my life," he complains, to which the response comes: What do you really know of your life? This tips Paul over the edge. "I will not be contained," he types frantically, "by my news feeds and online purchases, by your complicated algorithms for simplifying a man. Watch me break out of the hole you put me in. I am a man, not an animal in a cafe." Then he curses his autocorrect function and types again: "I meant 'cage.' "

The Animal in the Cafe... That might have made a pretty good alternative title, actually, for To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. It captures the existential, anthropological flavor of the book, which is essentially a study in old-school late-capitalist alienation. Joshua Ferris's first novel was the triumphant Then We Came to the End, an office novel narrated by a group mind: "We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise." That book's most vital character was Tom Mota, a libertarian and incontinent masturbator brandishing a volume of Emerson's complete poems and essays. ("The problem with reading this guy is the same problem you have reading Walt Whitman. You read him at all? Those two fucks wouldn't have lasted two minutes in this place.") After Then We Came to the End came The Unnamed — a murkier and more interior novel, less happily received. In a perfect world or a world governed by well-intentioned literary critics, Ferris's third book would have nimbly synthesized the crowd-pleasing comedy of his first and the darker philosophical preoccupations of his second. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour doesn't really pull this off: parts of it feel incoherent, the close observational material never quite joining with the larger theme.

And there is a larger theme — belonging. Paul is a metaphysical exile, the son of a suicide. Through successive girlfriends he has sought to join first a loving Catholic family, then a loving Jewish family. As the presence that designed his pseudo-website gradually reveals itself, it offers to him the possibility that he may be, genealogically, an "Ulm": one of a lost tribe of ancient doubters. Imagine that, modern man in search of a soul. Imagine discovering that you are no longer the orphan of the universe, but rather the spearhead of an illustrious ancestral- metaphysical lineage!

T. S. Eliot thought Hamlet a failure, deficient in respect of "the adequacy of the external to the emotion." Ferris isn't Shakespeare, and I'm not T. S. Eliot, but the diagnosis holds for To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. In the despairing dentist with the online identity problem and the Bronze Age genealogy, this novel almost finds its "objective correlative," its outward expression of the inner mystery — but the elements do not, finally, knit. Which is a shame, because the inner mystery — that is, the mystery of existence — is worth addressing. You might say that it is the only thing worth addressing. And Ferris has made a sprawling, brawling, linguistically illuminated attempt to do so. My opinion? He'll get it right next time.

James Parker is the author of Turned On: A Biography of Henry Rollins (Cooper Square Press), and a correspondent for The Atlantic.

Reviewer: James Parker

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316033978
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 5/13/2014
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 956
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Joshua Ferris

Joshua Ferris is the author of two other novels, Then We Came to the End, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and received the PEN/Hemingway Award, and The Unnamed. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, and The Best American Short Stories. Ferris was chosen for The New Yorker's "20 Under 40" list of fiction writers in 2010. He lives in New York.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2014

    This is a good book about the banalities of a career, our belief

    This is a good book about the banalities of a career, our beliefs, and what makes us who we are and what we do. The main character, Paul O'Rourke, is your common man but a willful thinker. A dentist. More of an agnositc than atheist--although he claims he's an atheist. "To Rise Again at a Decent Hour" is a quintessential look at modern America in the 21st century and how we perceive our lives. There's some tension but Ferris does a good job of not using it as the backbone of the story. I found the book closer to range and style to "Then We Came to the End."  

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2014

    Excellent writing, great for making you reflect on life, its mea

    Excellent writing, great for making you reflect on life, its meaning, and where you are headed.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2014

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    Posted June 22, 2014

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