Book Review: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
Posted July 7, 2014on:
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris, Little, Brown and Company, 2014, 337 pp.
I kept hearing Joshua Ferris on the radio on NPR in recent weeks, but always interrupted—I’d catch an appreciative glimpse from the host or quip from the author, along with the book title. When the title appeared on the “new books” shelf in my local library, it seemed a small miracle. In our small town, I often have to wait a long time for the newest NPR-promoted titles. I grabbed it up, excited to be the first one to take it home to read.
And then I started reading it, and discovered I really didn’t like it. Meeting the narrator, Paul O’Rourke, was like going on a blind date with a guy you met online, only to discover that instead of sensitive and interesting, he’s just a self-centered nerd consumed with his own loneliness, lust, and baseball. He is unable to connect, especially with women, and lacks empathy, which made it impossible for me to empathize with him. At the end of my first date with the book, which lasted for 50 pages or so, I didn’t really want to see Paul O’Rourke ever again.
Yet all that NPR press made me keep going. I realized it was outside my typical style, so I persisted in the hopes that I would be won over. In the end, I can’t say that I liked the book or enjoyed reading it, but I am glad I did bother to finish it. It had its moments, and by the end I found some sympathy for Paul O’Rourke, likely because by the end of the book he became a more sympathetic character.
Paul O’Rourke is a dentist in New York City with an elite clientele, an obsession with the Red Sox, and a terribly needy and disastrous history with social and romantic relationships. His life carries on from day to day, back and forth between his dental practice and his nightly Red Sox rituals, and the narrative we hear of this life is petulant and awkward. The plot of the book begins when someone anonymously creates a website for his dental practice, followed by a strident social media presence. The anonymous “other Paul” begins a prolific public campaign of speech for him, including allusions to a strange new/ancient religious and ethnic sect. At first, O’Rourke is obsessed and angry, but he eventually becomes intrigued and even enamored of the other Paul’s ideas. The experience sends him on a quest for a deeper engagement in life, breaking him free from his strangled approach to relationships and opening him to new possibilities. It is a hopeful story.
I think it was the passages about the experience of being a Red Sox fan that kept me going and made me want to read more. The author captures my own relationship with the Red Sox, before and after 2004.
The single happiest night of my life came in October of 2004 when Mueller forced extra innings with a single to center field and, more spectacularly, David Ortiz homered in the bottom of the twelfth, halting a Yankees’ sweep of the American League Championship and initiating literally the most staggering comeback in sports history, culminating in a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals to take the World Series. It was the validation of all those years of suffering, the cause of an unexpected euphoria, and a total cataclysm. Sometime in 2005 … the unlikely fact that the Red Sox had won finally sank in, and a malaise crept over me. I wasn’t prepared for the changes that accompanied the win—for instance, the sudden influx of new fans, none of them forged, as it were, in the fires of the team’s eighty-six-year losing streak. … I worried that we would forget the memory of loss across innumerable barren years and think no more of the scrappy self-preservation that was our defining characteristic in the face of humiliation in the face of defeat. (147)
He carries on there about becoming the team we’ve always hated, poaching players and buying victory, all the same feelings I’ve had since the Red Sox changed from being perpetual heartbreakers to repeat champions. Winning is great, but it changes what it means to follow my team. Later in the book, he reflects on the end of the 2011 season:
How happy I was that the Red Sox were acting once again like the Red Sox: a cursed and collapsing people. I didn’t want my team to lose; I just didn’t want my team to be the de facto winner. … It was our duty, as Red Sox fans, to root for Boston than it was to ensure in some deeply moral way—I really mean it when I say it was a moral act, a principled act of human decency—that we not resemble the New York Yankees in any respect. (324)
Oh, how refreshing to read someone who gets me about being a Red Sox fan.
So, the book had its moments. Excellent commentary on Red Sox fandom, interesting reflections on postmodern religion and the role of doubt, along with the problems of identity in our social media constructed culture. I may not have enjoyed it, but I finished it—and didn’t regret the time spent.