For every book we read during the book club, one of our book club members will write a review. This way anyone who couldn’t be there, can still join in with the fun! Roy den Boer is taking over as our main reviewer for the book club books, judging all that we have picked.
There’s something odd about dentists. There’s a lot of mythology in that profession. There’s the old trivium (might or might not be true as those things go) that dentists commit suicide more than people of any other profession. There’s the view of dentist as born sadist. When that dentist killed Cecil the lion, didn’t everybody go: of course, it’s a damn dentist. There’s a certain sense that the criminal enterprise in Inherent Vice is a cabal of dentists. To sum up, when we see dentists, we see a depressed bunch of sadists with a lot of money and enough free time to do bad stuff.
To Rise Again At A Decent Hour is narrated by dentist Paul O’Rourke. The opening pages of narration are brilliantly written by Ferris. It’s really tough to make a character evidently depressed and selfhating, yet still likable. The humor in the novel really works to balance this out. Ferris leans into the ridiculous situations O’Rourke has found himself in and into quips and clever writing, but never at the cost of the emotional core of the character.
The plot really kicks off when O’Rourke discovers there’s a website for his practice on-line. One he did not create or had made. More weirdly: there’s an odd religious passage on the website. Slowly this impostor’s online presence grows and grows. It’s an intriguing plot, although I was expecting it to remain a mystery. It feels like more of a premise than a story. It’s like the thousand movies that go “this guy is trapped in a phone booth/coffin/grand piano concert” or whatever. The last acts of those stories usually devolve into: “yeah, this villain’s plan didn’t make a lot of sense, but whatever.” This felt like it was going to be a more mystical variety of that same thing. A story idea that sounds cool, but doesn’t really work. That’s true to some extent. We never really understand why an internet presence seemed like a brilliant opening gambit, but the novel doesn’t cheap out on explaining what causes the mystery. It delves deep into a story about ancient religions and peoples and race. It keeps threatening to go off the rails. As Paul O’Rourke gets more frazzled and disjointed, the novel suffers along with him.
The smaller moments that serve to establish O’Rourke, his view of the people around him and his many flaws are what elevate the novel. His internal monologues as he works, his conversations with his co-workers (or probing silences), the little snippets we get of his past relationships are the stuff of human tragedy and comedy. Ferris so perfectly voices this miserable character. The plot sounds catchier than “sad dentist talks”, but the voice is the true hook. O’Rourke’s particular brokenness and search for belonging should be, to some extent, recognizable to everybody, even if he’s more of a dentist about it.