Joshua Ferris, who previously examined the culture of the contemporary workplace (Then We Came to the End) and family life (The Unnamed) turns his attention to social media in To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. At first, the novel seems to be a satiric look at the way Facebook and Twitter could be used to hijack a person’s identity. But as the main character heads toward an existential crisis, it is clear that Ferris is also exploring how technology both connects us and reinforces our isolation.

Paul O’Rourke is a dentist with a successful practice in Manhattan. His long workdays are punctuated by feelings of unrequited love for his ex-girlfriend (also his receptionist), religious disagreements with his long-term hygienist Mrs. Convoy and frequent cigarette breaks. His evenings are scheduled around Red Sox games. He has put off using the Internet for personal or professional use, so when a professional-looking website appears, purporting to represent his dental practice, O’Rourke is both puzzled and angered by this inroad into his privacy. His outrage only increases when an active Facebook page and Twitter account appear, also under his name. But when the nature of the content turns personal, he can’t resist emailing back to the virtual Paul O’Rourke.

Once Paul engages with this fictional doppelganger, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour quickly becomes a farce aimed at identity theft, the lure and limitations of religion and the importance of shared belief. Paul is a lifelong loner, from a troubled family, so his yearning to be part of a community is counter-weighted by huge emotional risks.

As in his earlier novels, Ferris is both laugh-out-loud funny and even profound, often on the same page. Paul’s self-absorption can be wearying at times, but his journey to self-awareness is designed to be both amusing and thought provoking, allowing readers to take their own existential ride.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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