Last night I finished Joshua Ferris's latest novel, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. I had really enjoyed his first novel, Then We Came to the End (but never read his second one, The Unnamed, which sounded too bleak).
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is not nearly as upbeat and big-hearted as Then We Came to the End, but it isn't exactly bleak either. It tells the story of Paul O'Rourke, a successful Park Avenue dentist (but a die-hard Red Sox fan because he's originally from Maine). He is pretty much at sea—he doesn't have any sense of who he is or what he wants from life. For instance, the "greatest disappointment" of his life was when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. You see, then he didn't know what to do with himself anymore—he was so used to the 86-year curse that when his greatest dream came true, he ended up sinking into a malaise. "We were underdogs, we knew only heartbreak and loss: how could I be expected to shift, practically overnight, to an attitude of entitlement"? So, yeah, as my kids would say. Paul is not altogether stable.
Paul's office manager is his former girlfriend, Connie Plotz, with whom he's still in love. He's also still in love with the entire extended Plotz family, and with the dream of becoming one of them, even though he isn't Jewish. He's fascinated by Judaism even though he claims to be an atheist. Also in the office are Mrs. Convoy, the devout Catholic hygienist who is always trying to help Paul find God, and Abby, the dental assistant who clearly loathes Paul.
The plot takes off when a website for Paul's practice suddenly appears online, and later when a Twitter account and Facebook page are created in his name. He doesn't know who is impersonating him online, but whoever it is keeps posting strange biblical-sounding statements and quotations. The online Paul seems very much like someone the real-life Paul has always wanted to be. The rest of the book follows Paul's journey to figure out who is doing this, and why—and, more importantly, what it all means. In truth, I found most of the plot less interesting than the trappings of the novel itself—the language, the humor, the characters, the minor scenes.
Some of the dentistry parts are hilarious, partly because they're meant to be so boring: "Mrs. Convoy was in room 2 prepping an impacted molar while in room 3 a chronic bruxer with a hypertrophied jaw was waiting for me to treat the eroding effects of his grinding and clenching." Paul is frequently daydreaming when he's supposed to be working on a patient, so he sometimes says completely random things to them or even forgets what procedure he's supposed to be doing on them and has to guess by what instrument he's holding. There's also a lot about flossing. A lot.
Paul's conversations with Mrs. Convoy are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, because we get only Mrs. Convoy's half of the dialogue and have to imagine what Paul is saying. I also loved the random lists that Paul uses to describe life, like when he's wondering why he can't just enjoy life the way everyone else seems to: "Why not just go with it? Just walk the dog and send the tweets and eat the scones and play with the hamsters and ride the bicycles and watch the sunsets and stream the movies and never worry about any of it?"
So: I really like Ferris's writing, and I enjoyed meeting these characters. However, I wasn't entirely satisfied by the plot overall, particularly the "resolution," ahem. There was a definite charm to it overall, though, so I'm glad I read it.