To Rise Again At A Decent Hour

Joshua Ferris (Little, Brown and Company)

May 14, 2014 at 8:25 am

While it may indeed be an urban folk tale that dentists have a higher rate of suicide than other professions, there’s no doubt that, like pimpin’, dentistry ain’t easy. As Joshua Ferris begins his side-splittingly funny and introspective novel To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, “The mouth is a strange place.” And he’s right — it’s a dark hole that sometimes is filled with broken, crooked and otherwise compromised teeth, infected gums and disease. 

According to Ferris, dentistry is a futile attempt to patch and fill and replace our original pearly whites. It’s a constant reminder of the fact that we are, as humans, decaying and declining and headed toward that swirling bowl of water in which we will all eventually be spit out. Not an easy way to make a living.

Dr. Paul O’Rourke DMD is at the center of Ferris’ surprisingly sweet and thought-provoking journey into the abyss. By all outward appearances, Dr. O’Rourke is talented, deeply caring of his patients and small staff. But the good doctor is also a man plagued by doubts, and his world is turned upside down when someone begins to impersonate him online. O’Rourke, a virtual Luddite when it comes to technology and social media, is baffled to say the least when a website for his practice mysteriously pops up on the ’Net.   

This “impersonator,” who seems to know intimate details about Dr. O’Rourke, continues the charade by posting bizarre and offensive comments on Facebook and Twitter. Everything changes when the “imposter” begins to seem like a better man than the “real” Dr. O’Rourke, and the quest for the dentist’s true self takes on new meaning. Ferris, whose first novel, And Then We Came to the End, was widely acclaimed, proves again that he can be counted among the best satirists like George Saunders and A.M. Homes. Ferris’ unique style and witty dialogue will leave you in stitches. And after reading this novel, you’ll certainly never floss the same again.

Grade: A