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.