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To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris - Shortlist author interview

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris - Shortlist author interview

Gustave Flaubert stated that “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” Was he right and, if so, what have you discovered?

The Flaubert quote is a good one. It reminds me of this one, from Don Delillo: “Writing is a concentrated form of thinking … a young writer sees that with words he can place himself more clearly into the world.”

All of my books look at characters in extremis. These themes or dilemmas—layoffs in the first book, an unnamed illness in the second, spiritual anomie in To Rise Again at a Decent Hour—give me access to life’s terminal points. What is it like to be fired? To confront a sickness that has no source or meaning? To be profoundly disconnected from other human beings? I discover how daily life might be lived when forced to confront these extremes, which sooner or later we all must. Myself, I’d rather not be surprised.

But let’s not get out of hand. The lion’s share of what I discover when I sit down to write is how to write. Not how to live or think or act, but how best to make this piece of rhetoric cohere. If coherence dictates overthrowing personal belief for a period of time, so be it. That’s the fun of fiction.

What is it about work and the workplace that so fascinates you?

Significance for a lot of people comes from children and hobbies. But most of us can’t spend our days engaging our kids and honing our golf games. We have to work. And so our lives are built hour by daily hour in an unexpected laboratory, in the midst of strangers, at the behest of betters and idiots, in a bid for more than brute survival. How will you spend that time? Bitterly, or with grace? Toiling, or prevailing? Will it be worth it in the end, or will you regret every second?

Plenty there for a novelist to go on.

You have said that you think the internet is a “force of anxiety”, is the fact that you examine some of its more negative aspects in To Rise Again at a Decent Hour a warning or a way of defusing that anxiety?

The only way to defuse the anxiety of the Internet is to distract yourself with the pleasures of real life. Which requires disconnecting. Which makes people very anxious. No one wants to miss out on anything. And the Internet is nothing if not a reflection of the world with all its varied and enviable goodies. So we remain connected, which keeps us in constant touch with all we’re missing out on.

I wrote the book to be neither a warning nor an attempt to defuse anxiety, but I did discover during the writing that I bear my own company with more equanimity when I avoid the Internet.