To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
By Joshua Ferris
Little, Brown & Company
is an ordinary dentist with minor quirks. He has a practice in
Manhattan but adores the Boston Red Sox. That was his father's team, and
some of his best-preserved memories are of being a boy, sitting at his
father's feet, during games. If only his father hadn't fallen victim to
despair and killed himself.
He hasn't had much practice with
women. (He has had such little practice that he uses a highly offensive
term to describe what others might just call being in complete thrall to
the object of one's love.) The two he has loved the most, he also has
fallen in love with their families. But it got uncomfortable very fast
as the hapless young man tried to ingratiate himself, wanting to become
Catholic like the first love's family and then Jewish like the second
love's family. Paul's former fiancee still works in his office and,
although they show no interest in getting back together, they have
fallen into the comforting kind of routine that old married couples
share. Now that he's on his own again, he's decided to be an atheist.
doesn't have much to do with the internet, although he does post a few
things about baseball. But as the online impersonations escalate, Paul
becomes more attached to his "me-machine", whether it takes the form of
tablet or smart phone, more than his employees or his patients.
Joshua Ferris's brilliant new novel, this is only the beginning. First,
there's a website about his practice. Then social media accounts. It's
all accurate. But it's not him. And it's getting to him. Who is this guy
pretending to be him?
This setup is light, amusing and sails by.
But as the online masquerades escalate, things get deeper, darker and
far more murky. The imposter starts posting quasi-biblical,
important-sounding things about a lost people who are scattered around
the planet. Comparisons are made to Jewish people. Paul is more than
uncomfortable. Connie, his ex-fiance who still works for him, is Jewish.
She and Paul's office manager, a woman near retirement age who knows
her Old and New Testament, do not recognize what this person is posting.
They also don't understand why Paul doesn't just admit it's him.
it Paul? Is he fooling himself? Is Ferris fooling the reader? Would
that be the case if he emails the imposter and gets back the response:
"How well do you know yourself?" Say, just what is going on here?
when it looks to get very uncomfortable reading about a group of people
that is "so wretched they envy the history of the Jews", the story
changes again. There's a specific reason Ferris has gone this route, and
it has a lot to do with self-awareness and belonging.
falls wonderfully into place (whether one thinks that what happens is
what would be the best thing to have happen). It is Paul's patients who
provide him with an epiphany about faith, the power of doubt and how a
person could consider how he fits into the world. His deep-seated love
for the Red Sox, tied so strongly to Paul's love for his father, before
they ever broke the curse of the Babe and the godawful season when Bobby
Valentine was the manager and the team and their fans endured the
biggest drop in baseball fortune that has ever been, is used to test
that power of doubt to uphold faith. And Ferris makes it work.
is a novel that once appeared it was going to go off the rails in
spectacular fashion. But instead, it ends up feeling heartfelt and
provides an emotional homecoming that means it was all worth it in the
end, that just like our protagonist, what we yearn for is to be able to
get a good night's sleep and to rise again at a decent hour to spend
another day here in the world.
©2014 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission