6/30/15

To Rise Again At a Decent Hour . . .

I have read hundreds and hundreds of books over the years but I'm most happy in one of four genres: narrative non-fiction (taking historic events and interlacing them with background on the characters, events, etc. to have them read like a novel (Erik Larson is the master of this genre), non-fiction (I've been pushing through Kenneth S. Davis' four part bio on FDR since right around the time of Davis' death in 1999), Judaica (I love anything Rabbi Lawrence Kushner or Rabbi Joseph Telushkin) and, last but least least, is the genre of the middle-class white guy writing about being a middle-class white guy in often humorous, occasionally heartbreaking ways.  

Look at the authors, all still working today, that have so influenced me that I would consider tattooing on my body (not really): Augusten Burroughs, Jasper Fforde, Mike Magnuson, Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Tropper, and the newest addition to this collection . . . Joshua Ferris.

With "just" (he says - having never written more than blog posts, press releases, bios, a masters thesis, and hundreds of glorified book reports and verbal vomit academic papers) three novels to his credit, Ferris is quickly becoming my favorite-favorite author writing today and his "To Rise Again at a Decent Hour" is my favorite of his books ("The Unnamed" is still on my to-read list). I am not alone in this enthusiasm. This book made Ferris the first American man EVER nominated for the prestigious Man Booker Prize (yeah, yeah, 2014 was the first time they were eligible anyway but, still . . . ).

"To Rise Again at a Decent Hour" tells the story of Dr. Paul O'Rourke, a dentist working on the island of Manhattan and living in Brooklyn who, we learn early and often in the book, has always been seeking a way/place/community to just "belong" to. He's a Red Sox fan (tapes every game and watches them with insane pomp around the tradition). He's in love with his employee/former girlfriend but is maybe more in love with her Jewish family and tradition (much like he was Catholicism when involved with a Catholic earlier in life). Surprisingly O'Rourke eschews social media (where we all belong, right?) and other ways to make connections with people in ways that make his sorta anti-social behavior less an obstacle.

But someone out there has a plan for O'Rourke and, before long, "he" is on Facebook and Twitter. "He" has a website for his practice (and, really, why would you not want that in an age of SEO-friendly business mandates), and he is getting e-mails from, well, himself. This quickly moves in to searching and discovery in ways that boggle the mind yet capture your attention. It turns out O'Rourke is likely an Ulm. What's an Ulm? Read the book. By the end of the book O'Rourke is a changed man. His obsessions have shifted, his staff has changed, his priorities have evolved, he is equally alone.

The journey, for readers, is truly wonderful. Much like in Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby", Ferris deftly slows the pace of the book as fun, frivolity, and obsession give way to hard work, challenges, and exploration. The very words chosen for dialogue between characters change. The paragraphs become longer. The jokes lessen. The comedy up front turns to a different comedy later on. Less funny, to be clear.

I would highly suggest checking this book out if you want a fairly quick, easy read that will entertain and challenge you (religion, meaning of life, concepts of being alone, etc. are all explored in ways that want you to debate them internally as you turn pages). This one is on my short list for favorite books of the year. I think it would make your list, too.