Sunday, October 05, 2014

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

Joshua Ferris impressed everyone with his debut novel Then We Came to The End - an astonishing book told in first person plural about a group of people that work in an office in Chicago.  I LOVED it.  His second book, I must admit, I forgot I read until I found, ahem, my own review. Looks like I liked it...

I just finished To Rise Again at a Decent Hour and I have mixed feelings.  While I thought the writing was superb and exciting and innovative, I must admit I skipped many a page in the second half because the plot moved so slowly.  There used to be a time in my life where beautiful prose was really all I was looking for, but, I have to say I'm pretty plot-motivated these days.  This book actually reminded me a LOT (in tone) of David Foster Wallace and John Kennedy Toole (Confederacy of Dunces) but not in a good way.... Those two writers initially blew me off my feet but also I quickly tired of them after about 50 pages.  It's like their superlative, effusive prose can't sustain a novel.  With each of these three writers I always start out like, "This is the greatest thing I've ever read!" and 50 pages later, I'm like, "Jesus Christ, give it a fucking rest!"  Causing me to look deep inside myself:  Can I not "handle" a massive prose machine or is it really too much?

The main character in To Rise Again is a fairly successful dentist in Manhattan, Paul O'Rourke.  He's from a poor family in the Midwest - in fact, his father was mentally ill and committed suicide - details of which eek out slowly in unexpected moments.  He has two ex-girlfriends that he's kind of fixated on - one was a Catholic girl from college and another is his Jewish dental hygienist, Connie.  What he loved perhaps the most about each girl was her extended family, but, as an atheist, he was never really able to allow himself to be part of their clan - he felt separated from them as if by an impenetrable barrier, and often put his foot in his mouth when trying to ingratiate himself.  I should mention that the book is really hilarious, and make me laugh out loud a lot.  He's just such an idiot.
Poet are a ponderous bunch. (Connie's a poet.) They're hypocrites, too. They'd never step foot in a church in America, but fly them to Europe and they rush from tarmac to transept as if the real God, the God of Dante and chiaroscuro, of flying buttresses and Bach, had been awaiting their arrival for centuries.  What thrall, what sabbath longing, will overcome a poet in the churches of Europe. And Connie was Jewish!
Anyway, eventually what happens is someone claims that Paul is part of this long line of peoples that have been persecuted since time immemorial and the book becomes this sort of mediation on how a person might practice or be a part of a religion without belief and whether and how couples can or should share the same belief system.  It's ambitious and messy but really admirable.  I love that he tackled this huge theme, even though it got pretty slippery.  I'm not the only one - it was short-listed for the Man Booker this year and was a National Book Award Finalist.

No comments: