Paul O’Rourke, the narrator of Joshua Ferris’s third novel, is a ‘dentist and board-certified prosthodontist’. Each hour spent peering into mouths can be as painful for him as it is for those in his chair. He’s deeply hurt by the fact that, no matter how carefully he attends to his nostrils before hovering over a patient, someone always writes an online review afterwards alleging that he has ‘cave dwellers’. His colleagues give him problems too. There is Connie, his receptionist and former lover, who reminds him of happier times. There is Abby, his dental assistant, whose Bartleby-like silence disturbs his need for control. And significantly there is Betsy, a middle-aged hygienist trying to convert him to Catholicism. Paul’s response to Betsy’s peddling of Christian values finds its best expression in Ferris’s epigraph: ‘“Ha, ha” (Job 39:25)’.
Paul believes in humour, bluntness and an instinctive existentialism; also in the Red Sox, baseball statistics and the supreme importance of flossing. Perhaps the thing he holds most dear is his privacy. He likes to remain at an observant remove from reality – the preferred position of that other masked