Booked Up

A Dentist’s Descent Into Darkness

In an acclaimed novel by Joshua Ferris, a rabid atheist confronts a cosmic case of identity theft.

By - Oct 4th, 2014 01:54 pm
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris is this week’s recommended reading. This haunting novel is short-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, one of only two nominations received by American writers this year. (The other, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, was published last year and is therefore outside Booked Up’s purview.) Ferris’ novel may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the British judges loved its odd humor and dark foreboding.

Our anti-hero, Paul C. O’Rourke, DDS, is a youngish Manhattan dentist, living the dream and hating every minute of it. (Let me say upfront that I do not believe that Dr. O’Rourke is representative of the average dentist!) He is obsessed by technology, but hates being dependent; he desires a lasting relationship, but pushes the women in his life away from him; and he longs to believe in God, but is a rabid atheist. These contradictions propel the disturbing plot forward.

Dr. O’Rourke is so paranoid about the internet that he refuses to have a website for his practice. Despite this, one day, a site comes on line that includes his biography and bizarre, pseudo-Biblical writings that tell of an ancient, unknown tribe. The situation gets worse as Facebook and Twitter accounts appear under O’Rourke’s name filled with cultic messages.

Then, the confused and frightened dentist begins to receive e-mails from a fake account in his own name. The messages become more ominous and threatening and it begins to look like a case of identity theft. What sets it apart, however, is the ever obsessive revelations of the so-called lost tribe.

As the messages start to seem anti-Semitic and get crazier, O’Rourke begins to lose his grip on reality and dives into the on-line wilderness of fringe message boards and unregulated web sites. His work suffers and his colleagues and friends begin to abandon him. The mystery messages continue and we are left questioning what is real and what is hallucination.

Imagine Holden Caulfield had grown up to become a dentist and you might get an inkling of the flavor of disdain and confusion O’Rourke manifests. His dental patients bear much of his consternation. (Keep flossing!) He is a classic unreliable narrator and the reader is left guessing about what is true, much as the narrator does. This sense of fear and doubt gets at the crux of the dilemma faced by many today.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is a fascinating picture of the disintegration of one, very contemporary man. It is also a profound examination of our society’s desire to believe something, anything, rather than be alone in the universe. Ferris has created a post-modern parable of faith, doubt, and belief that stings with honesty. If you don’t believe something, he seems to be saying, you may fall for anything.


Spotlight on Local Writers: Philip Martin

Local author, Philip Martin,is a writer, editor, and publisher. His latest book is The Purpose of Fantasy: A Reader’s Guide. It highlights classic and lesser-known books to provide a picture of the reasons this genre is so compelling to all ages. Mr. Martin is also the director of Great Lakes Literary and oversees two imprints: Crickhollow Books and Crispin Books.

The Purpose of Fantasy: A Reader’s Guide is published by Crispin Books. Mr. Martin’s biography and more information can be found at &


Upcoming Book Events:

Saturday, October 4 (7:00 PM): Book Release: I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin: Three Decades of Hispanic Writing at Woodland Pattern Book Center, 720 East Locust Street, Milwaukee. (414) 263-5001

Saturday, October 4 (7:00 PM): Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain and A Sudden Light, at Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee. (414) 332-1181

Monday, October 6 (7:00 PM): Genevieve G. McBride and Stephen R. Byers, authors of ‘Dear Mrs. Griggs’: Women Pour Out Their Hearts from the Heartland, in the Village Center Meeting Room at the Shorewood Public Library, 3920 North Murray Avenue in Shorewood. Reception begins at 6:30 PM. Co-sponsored by Boswell Book Company.

Monday, October 6 (7:00 PM): Reading with Gregg Shapiro, author of Lincoln Avenue: Chicago Stories, at Outwords Books, Gifts & Coffee, 2710 N. Murray Avenue, Milwaukee.(414) 963-9089

Tuesday, October 7 (7:00 PM): Marquette Professor Daniel Maguire, author of Christianity Without God: Moving Beyond the Dogmas and Retrieving the Epic Moral Narrative at Boswell Book Company.

Wednesday, October 8 (6:30 PM): Book Group discusses Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver at The Little Read Book, 7603 W. State St., Wauwatosa. (414) 774-2665

Wednesday, October 8 (7:00 PM): University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Professor Jim Winship, author of Coming of Age in El Salvador, at Boswell Book Company.

Friday, October 10 (7:00 PM): Steven Pinker, author of The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, at Boswell Book Company.

Send your book club picks and author event information to me at or on Facebook at And good reading!

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