Saturday, February 22, 2014

Book Review: To Rise Again At A Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

'Paul O'Rourke is a man made of contradictions: he loves the world, but doesn't know how to live in it. He's a Luddite addicted to his iPhone, a dentist with a nicotine habit, a rabid Red Sox fan devastated by their victories, and an atheist not quite willing to let go of God. 

Then someone begins to impersonate Paul online, and he watches in horror as a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account are created in his name. What begins as an outrageous violation of his privacy soon becomes something more soul-frightening: the possibility that the online "Paul" might be a better version of the real thing. As Paul's quest to learn why his identity has been stolen deepens, he is forced to confront his troubled past and his uncertain future in a life disturbingly split between the real and the virtual. 

At once laugh-out-loud funny about the absurdities of the modern world, and indelibly profound about the eternal questions of the meaning of life, love and truth, TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR is a deeply moving and constantly surprising tour de force"

5 out of 5 Star Rating.

Having received an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) from Little, Brown and Company through the Goodreads First Reads program, I can tell you that it was love at first sight for me. Some say that this LAFS phenomenon is a thing of lust and infatuation, since it is technically based on appearances. In the case of To Rise Again At A Decent Hour, appearances definitely had a bearing on my experience: from first opening the package to carrying it around with me for reading on the commute to and from work, I can say that I almost wanted to hold it up for everyone to witness its beauty in all its glory. When sitting beside another commuter who was reading a physical book, I could not but help gloat smugly at the internal feeling that my book was way sexier than theirs.

But not just in appearances. In my first few lines in, I was totally baited and Joshua Ferris simply continued to reel me in thoroughly and completely. What a read!

Throughout reading, I found myself pausing every now and then simply to reflect on how well-written this book is. And it never ceased. I had to observe that this was a very intelligent book, and that the 'feel-good' (chick-lit and YA) reading I had been feasting on in recent months made this realization and contrast even more stark. Ferris' writing style simply shines - he writes so densely, tightly, compactly, and so thorough in mind-boggling detail of much of what we take for granted in life. With writing like this, it bodes well to take the time and pace yourself in reading and absorbing; trying to complete reading this in one continuous stretch may likely cause internal implosions and disillusionment. I can safely say that my appreciation is heightened by having rationed my reading for only those hours spent on my commute, so I found myself eagerly awaiting the chance to reopen to the page I had left off at and dive right back into the depth of Paul O'Roarke's life.

Written in first-person, Paul O'Roarke is the protagonist you simply cannot help but relate to. I felt such an uncanny awareness of recognition; I had to consider that I really felt I knew Paul. Maybe it was myself that I saw in him, or maybe a man I know and love well that I also saw in him, or perhaps a few other men, but yes definitely myself. Granted, he differs in so many ways from who I myself am, in gender, age, profession, background, religious-affiliation to name a few examples, but at the very root of what makes him human is that fundamental concept that resonates strongly with what makes me me. Paul is such a flawed character and yet, intelligent in his hopelessness. In his personal reconciliation with his own failings, he makes us ask and consider the same of our own selves. Or rather, that's what he did for me.

To believe is to doubt, because to doubt makes us ask, and in asking we come to understand. That's one of the underlying themes of To Rise Again At A Decent Hour. Paul's disillusionment with life, with his own self, is itself a story, and while it may lend an air of despair and desperation to giving an impression of a intensely sorrowful story, that's not the case. Ferris infuses so much humour into it, that you cannot but help chuckle. I had to moderate an unexpected bout of laughing out loud on the bus ride home one evening, only to still keep grinning to myself even pages after the episode that made me laugh. Through Paul I realized that there is so much that we constantly take for granted in daily life: his mere ability to sit down and observe the most mundane and futile of observations bears contrast to the big picture of his disenchantment and loss of purpose in life. Perhaps that is exactly what Ferris sets out to do, and which is why I cannot but sing the glory of his writing; the possibilities for further introspection through simply reading this book makes my mind do happy cartwheels.

This is a book I can read again and again, I will pick it up and find another passage that will make me pause, stare out the window and think and ruminate and say 'Yes! Eureka! Thank you!', (I cannot emphasize here how many times this man (Ferris via Paul) has made me sigh or sing hallelujah at the uncanny points he elaborates upon which I too have pondered, for example this phenomenon of society's dependency on technology) and then months again I can look at the same passage and compare it and see something new from a different perspective. There are sheer levels and a plethora of microthoughts garnishing the entire story -- love, faith, (dis)contentment, loneliness, identity.. --, and that is why, for me, this book most definitely is a Supercalifraglisticsexyalidocious read.

I am totally putting Ferris down as an author I need to read, and will be reading his previous and future novels! I encourage and recommend To Rise Again At A Decent Hour  to anyone and everyone. The book comes out in May 2014.