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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Off the rails: Ferris's novel gets increasingly weird as it moves along

Joshua Ferris's To Rise Again at a Decent Hour gets increasingly weird, as the plot begins to focus ever more intensely on the odd messages Dr. O'Rourke, the narrator, is receiving from his avatar - whom he thinks, and we think, might be an off-the-rails dissatisfied patient: the messages tell first of an obscure tribe or sect thought to be massacred by the Jews in Biblical times, but apparently somehow somewhere still enduring at about 2,000 scattered people, the Ulms, and they believe Rourke is among them - he gets increasingly drawn into this fantasy - and there's always the hovering possibility that he is writing these messages to himself, that he's some kind of DID personality. He seeks the help of an antiquarian book dealer to learn more about the supposed Ulms, and at the point I have just reached he makes contact with an eccentric billionaire who may also believe he is an Ulm. What sets the Ulms apart is their unique theology: not precisely atheist but a religion of doubt. OK so what is Ferris up to? On one levle, it was apparent to me from the first pages that O'Rourke was unconvincing as an Irish-American (lapsed protestant, not Catholic, as I'd posted earlier) - and apparently unconvincing to Ferris as well. He seems very much like a Rothian Jewish narrator, with his interest in arcana and spirituality, as well as anti-Semitism and carnality, but he's actually it seems a Jew manque - the Ulms themselves sound like a cult within Judaism, as Judaism among all religions encourages inquiry and even doubt - but the joke is wearing thin. We'll need a good accounting as to who is sending OI'Rourke these messages - posing online as O'Rourke himself in fact - to make the destination worth the journey - although must admit there are many very striking and funny passages along the route. If we are to take the Ulms and their claimants as an actual presence within the world of this novel, your tolerance for the story will depend on how will you are to suspend a lot of disbelief and enter into Ferris's fantasy. If the Ulms are a figment of O'Rourke's imagination, there will be a lot of explaining to do in final chapters I think.

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