There is something wrong with Paul C. O’Rourke.
It’s not just his frenetic need to tape (on VHS) and watch (except for the sixth inning) every single Red Sox game. And it’s not just in the way he talks about his relationships–always a little too in love, a little too obsessed.
The way he set up his dental practice without a personal, private office probably doesn’t help. (Wouldn’t anyone go crazy helping patients who hate going to the dentist without a second on your own to breathe?)
He’s a total Monet. He seems ok from far away, but on getting a little closer to Paul, his splattering emotions come into view. His despair seeps out, his desire for love can’t be contained, and the messy parts of him don’t quite add up to a whole man.
Paul’s desperation for family and a sense of self leaves him vulnerable, and when an anonymous person on the internet starts to impersonate him, the decay in Paul’s life pushes through his not-so-well-crafted veneer. Paul’s internet impersonator introduces him to a new religion called the “Ulms,” and Paul can’t help but think this might be his salvation. The Ulms prey on Paul, like so many cults do, but he is in too deep and already too lost to see it.
It’s painful to watch Paul flounder as someone takes better control of his life on the internet than he ever could in real life, but it’s also darkly funny, and real, and hopeful. As terrible as Paul can be, he is the best part of Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Kindle here).
Ferris has always excelled at creating human characters. Paul is not one-note; he is a symphony of problems, desires, callousness, desperation, love, wonder, and wanderlust.
Paul is the narrator of this story, and an unreliable one at that. Ferris trusts that we’ll see when Paul is a little off, and those moments are some of the funniest. Ferris trusts the reader, too, to fill in Paul’s side of the conversation. When Ferris only showed others’ responses to Paul–a fun and interesting structure–it revealed just as much as if we had a tape recording of the conversation. It is a delight to be in Ferris’ world again and hear his sharp wit and honest storytelling.
Some of the people in Paul’s life may be worse for knowing him, but I am better for having read about him. Paul is a dentist, a boss, an ex-boyfriend, but above all he is someone searching for a truth that will fill his heart. He is human and he is lost, just like the rest of us.
Just a few of many great quotes:
- Watching her strip was like receiving an inexpert massage from a blind lady.
- You’re mortal, and it’s ugly.
- Paint forgets within the hour what it learns in an instant
- A man is full of things you simply cannot tweet.