To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is one of those books that is so fun to read that you don’t realize just how weighty it is until you’re turning the last few pages and find that a little bit of yourself, a tiny little cell or two, has been changed.
Main character Paul is an annoying, neurotic dentist. Only it turns out he’s not. He’s a dentist, anyway, but maybe not so neurotic. He’s been through a lot in his 30-odd years, but he’s not complaining. Instead, he’s seeking his place in the world, a sense of belonging, a family, a purpose. He has a weakness for women with large, religious families. First Sam, of the devoutly Catholic Santacroce family, and more recently Connie, his office manager and member of the large Jewish Plotz clan. Paul’s longing for love, family, and purpose manifests in an obsessive fascination with his girlfriends’ religions, and he finds himself stepping over boundary lines in his quest to get just a bit closer, to understand the privilege of a religious heritage just a little better.
We first join Paul when his post-breakup pining and analyzing and mooning for Connie’s family is interrupted by his discovery that someone is impersonating him online. Eventually his online doppelganger begins to post comments that could be construed as anti-Semitic, and Paul is aggrieved and itchy with the discomfort of knowing the Plotz’s may be attributing these comments to him. But when fake-Paul offers real-Paul an almost irresistible chance to belong, to claim a heritage of his own, what will real-Paul do?
Much of the action here takes place in Paul’s head, or in his Manhattan office, or in his apartment. Paul’s journey is existential, and by its end, “neurotic” Paul has revealed himself as an engaging, thoughtful, vulnerable, full fledged human being. Who just happens to be a dentist.