A trip to the dentist always sucks – especially in Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

To Rise Again at a Decent HourOctober 6, 2014

I am deathly afraid of two things: heights and THE DENTIST. While my fear of heights seems to lessen a little bit each year (though you will never see me jumping out of a plane – even at 80) every visit to the dentist amplifies my fear. From the moment I step into the office, my palms start sweating and I have a strong desire to hum just to keep myself from crying. So, when Joshua Ferris’ protagonist in To Rise Again at a Decent Hour turned out to be a miserable shit of a dentist, I felt justified in vilifying THE DENTIST, and longed for his tragic end.

Paul C. O’Rourke is a miserable, cynical, self-absorbed, private-practice DDS. Think of the character Ricky Gervais played in the movie Ghost Town and you’ll get a tip-of-the-iceberg view of what I’m talking about. I wanted him (Paul C. O’Rourke not Ricky Gervais) to get CRUSHED in the worst possible way from the first page! My feelings only intensified when I reached page 30 while simultaneously finding out I needed a filling in real life.

So, when O’Rourke has his identity stolen online early on in the book, it is completely satisfying. There is so much potential and no end to what could happen. Unfortunately, what happens is terrible. Worse than terrible for the reader. The identity thief turns out to be responsible for O’Rourke’s spiritual awakening, or perhaps his ‘anti-spiritual’ awakening. Next thing you know, Paul C. O’Rourke is spiraling out of control, obsessing over love and religion, and trying to make his way into the hearts of others through their belief-systems.

And that was when I tuned out.

Yes, I finished To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, but my heart wasn’t in it. I kept wondering what Ferris was trying to accomplish: to show how easy it is to start a cult? To show how Wikipedia can turn a pseudo-fact into a legitimate belief in a matter of weeks? Or simply to show that we all still need a spiritual life (real or fake) in the modern age? I’m sure his intention is somewhere hidden in those questions but it escaped me. And eventually, I didn’t care.

By the end of the novel, I was bored of Paul C. O’Rourke and didn’t care if he found salvation, nirvana or the psych. ward. I was very disappointed To Rise Again at a Decent Hour even made it to the Man Booker long list, let alone the short list. I will be even more disappointed if it wins the prize next week. But at least I can claim one small personal victory: my fear of the dentist is less than my fear of having to reread this book. Ever.

Libby

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Reading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
I am currently making my way through the 2014 Man Booker Prize shortlist and WHOA! is it ever different than any other year’s shortlist. Last year’s choices were highly ‘literary’: decidedly tough reads (Testament of MaryThe Luminaries), often long reads (The Luminaries), and not for the faint of heart. This year’s books are (so far) surprisingly ‘lighter’ reads. Not to say they don’t cover deep and meaningful content; they just seem easier to get through. NoViolet Bulawayo’s (pen name of Elizabeth Zandile Tshele) We Need New Names traces a character’s maturation from war-torn Zimbabwe to her later life in Michigan and veers towards some very serious and disturbing events (and thankfully veers away before the metaphorical crashes). Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves recounts the story of a dysfunctional family unlike any I’ve ever met before. Both were enjoyable to read (unlike the struggle I’m currently facing with Joshua Ferris’ book To Rise Again at a Decent Hour).

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves took me completely by surprise plot-wise, so this is the note I wrote after reading:

IMG_3439[1]Hi!

I am so thankful I read this before anyone told me about it, or before I read any spoilers. I’m not sure I would have picked it up had I known. However, I’m glad I did. I am usually the reader that pieces the mystery together as the story progresses, but this time, I was completely caught off-guard on the Fern reveal. Did I miss something along the way? Did YOU know? (Maybe I should have looked more closely at the cover! – Seriously, take a look at the cover and tell me what the book is about, because clearly I am the least observant person on the planet)

I enjoyed the plot and the characters and the mystery/detective genre for the content. I also loved all the research that went into it. That last few chapters were way too rushed for me; they unraveled too quickly. Otherwise, I enjoyed it. You?

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On reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

creek

Ok – it’s not Brooklyn – but it’s a photo I took last year, that I love. And it’s a tree.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is considered an American classic…but growing up in Canada meant it was never on any reading list. I had never even heard of it until my American colleague told me I HAD to read it. So I did. It’s a wonderful coming of age story that reminded me of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, A Prayer for Owen Meany and Fifth Business but (delightfully) this one is about a GIRL!!!!

Francie Nolan is 11 years old in 1912 –  the daughter of two first-generation Americans. Her parents are poor; Katie Rommely is a janitress and Johnny Nolan is a mostly-out-of-work singer. So, the story is often about poverty and the small treasures to be found in Brooklyn and in life. I really loved the book; the only aspect that bothered me was the very realistic portrayal of how women were treated by both strangers and even their families at that time. In one scene, Katie forces Francie to quit school and take a job while her younger brother, with no desire to be a scholar or even be in school, continues on. While Katie’s reasoning is later made clear, I was so mad while reading that I kept shaking my head in disbelief and clenching my fist. While the ending struck me as a little too ‘packaged’, I thought it was a terrific book and will add it to my class optional reading list at the grade 9/10 level.

My letter after reading:

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The Most important page of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is page 83, when Katie Rommely suddenly realizes she is not able to give her newborn daughter Francie any advantage in life: no money, a limited education, and a weak father. In panic that she will give her daughter a repeat on her life, Katie asks her own mother: “What must I do […] to make a different world for her?”

As shocked as I was by the answer, it made my heart sing. Mary Rommely names reading and writing as the two most important tools in the world. They are “the secret” – to developing an imagination, to then learning the difference between truth and what is imagined, and to overcoming disappointment in life. And from all the possible reading options to illuminate “the secret”, she names two: The Complete Works of Shakespeare and The King James Bible.

When I read that, I couldn’t control the vigorous nodding of my head because there are truly no other books that offer such vast richness of expression, imagination and a sense of ‘being’ human. In fact, if I had to choose only two books for a deserted island, or prison, or solitary confinement, I can’t think of better company. Can you?

Libby

The first reference to the tree

The tree that grows in Brooklyn is The Tree of Heaven

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