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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

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Plot Unthickens: To Rise Again at Decent Hours eludes me

At the end of the day, I'm completely puzzled, or more accurately completely disappointed, in Joshua Ferris's To Rise Again at a Decent Hour - here's a writer who can be very funny, very smart, and very imaginative - some of the rants and some of scenes early on are terrific and made this novel promising from the start, and Ferris also knows how to get a good plot in motion (as evidenced in his first novel, Then We Come to the End); in Rise Again it took him a little longer to start the wheels turning - as if he were primarily interested in establishing the narrative voice and not the story line, and that's OK - as the story started it was intriguing: someone for unknown reasons is impersonating the dentist online, opening a website for his traffic, sending tweets - all with mystical-religious statements sometimes edging toward anti-Semitism. So what's this about? Who's got it in for this hapless guy, or is it some weirdly self-destructive plot he's ensnaring himself in for some reason? His relationship to Jewish people, and to religion in general, is odd from the start, so we are ready to believe he has a hidden, malicious personality secret even from himself. There are certainly echos of Conrad and even more so of Roth - the malicious impersonator of Operation Shylock, the dentist, even, of The Counterlife - but, sadly, it seemed in the last half of the novel as if Ferris is just feeling his way - as if he himself had no idea where his plot was heading - and the story line that at first seemed an intriguing and mysterious study of personality became in my view a ridiculous fantasy about a tiny surviving middle-eastern sect and some fanatics trying to rejuvenate it. Sure, there are parallels and analogies in our world - the near-extinct sect in some ways could remind readers of the Mormons in the early days - but honestly I can't imagine anyone buying into the plot as it unfolds in the last third of the book, with an extremely long or so it felt back story about a wealthy young man trying to convert to Judaism and become a rabbi but is rebuffed by the elders and about a multi-billionaire devoting his fortune to the sect revival - and why this all involves our dentist-narrator completely eluded me.

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