The Dinner Party



By Joshua Ferris

Formats and Prices




$20.99 CAD

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year: The first collection of short stories from the critically acclaimed, prize-winning author of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

These eleven stories by Joshua Ferris, many of which were first published in The New Yorker, are at once thrilling, strange, and comic. The modern tribulations of marriage, ambition, and the fear of missing out as the temptations flow like wine and the minutes of life tick down are explored with the characteristic wit and insight that have made Ferris one of our most critically acclaimed novelists.

Each of these stories burrows deep into the often awkward and hilarious misunderstandings that pass between strangers and lovers alike, and that turn ordinary lives upside down. Ferris shows to what lengths we mortals go to coax human meaning from our very modest time on earth, an effort that skews ever-more desperately in the direction of redemption.

There’s Arty Groys, the Florida retiree whose birthday celebration involves pizza, a prostitute, and a life-saving heart attack. There’s Sarah, the Brooklynite whose shape-shifting existential dilemma is set in motion by a simple spring breeze. And there’s Jack, a man so warped by past experience that he’s incapable of having a normal social interaction with the man he hires to help him move out of storage.

The stories in The Dinner Party are about lives changed forever when the reckless gives way to possibility and the ordinary cedes ground to mystery. And each one confirms Ferris’s reputation as one of the most dazzlingly talented, deeply humane writers at work today.


The Dinner Party

On occasion, the two women went to lunch and she came home offended by some pettiness. And he would say, “Why do this to yourself?” He wanted to shield her from being hurt. He also wanted his wife and her friend to drift apart so that he never had to sit through another dinner party with the friend and her husband. But after a few months the rift would heal and the friendship return to good standing. He couldn’t blame her. They went back a long way, and you got only so many good friends.

He leapt four hours ahead of the evening and saw, in future retrospect, that he could predict every gesture, every word. He walked back to the kitchen and stood with a new drink in front of the fridge, out of her way. “I can’t do it,” he said.

“Can’t do what?”

The balls were up in the air: water coming to a boil on the stove, meat seasoned on the butcher block. She stood beside the sink dicing an onion. Other vegetables, bright and doomed, waited their turn on the counter. She stopped cutting long enough to lift her arm to her eyes in a tragic pose. Then she resumed, more tearfully. She wasn’t drinking her wine.

“I can tell you everything that will happen from the moment they arrive to the little kiss on the cheek goodbye, and I just can’t goddamn do it.”

“You could stick your tongue down her throat instead of the kiss goodbye,” she offered casually as she continued to dice. She was game, his wife. She spoke to him in bad taste freely, and he considered it one of her best qualities. “But then that would surprise her, I guess, not you.”

“They come in,” he said, “we take their coats. Everyone talks in a big hurry, as if we didn’t have four long hours ahead of us. We self-medicate with alcohol. A lot of things are discussed, different issues. Everyone laughs a lot, but later no one can say what exactly was so witty. Compliments on the food. A couple of monologues. Then they start to yawn, we start to yawn. They say, ‘We should think about leaving, huh?’ and we politely look away, like they’ve just decided to take a crap on the dinner table. Everyone stands, one of us gets their coats, peppy goodbyes. We all say what a lovely evening, do it again soon, blah-blah-blah. And then they leave and we talk about them and they hit the streets and talk about us.”

“What would make you happy?” she asked.

“A blow job.”

“Let’s wait until they get here for that,” she said.

She slid her finger along the blade to free the clinging onion. He handed her her glass. “Drink your wine,” he said. She took a sip. He left the kitchen.

He sat on the sofa and resumed reading his magazine. Then he got up and returned to the kitchen and poured himself a new drink.

“That’s another thing,” he said. “Their big surprise. Even their goddamn surprises are predictable.”

“You need to act surprised for their sake,” she said.

“Wait for a little opening,” he said, “a little silence, and then he’ll say, he’ll be very coy, he’ll say, ‘Why don’t you tell them?’ And she’ll say, ‘No, you,’ and he’ll say, ‘No, you,’ and then she’ll say, ‘Okay, okay, I’ll tell them.’ And we’ll take in the news like we’re genuinely surprised—like, holy shit, can you believe she’s knocked up, someone run down for a Lotto ticket, someone tell Veuve Clicquot, that bastard will want to know. And that’s just the worst, how predictable our response to their so-called news will be.”

“Well, okay,” she said. “When that happens, why don’t you suggest they have an abortion?”

He chewed his ice and nodded. “That would shake things up, wouldn’t it?”

“Tell them we can do it right here with a little Veuve Clicquot and one of the bedroom hangers.”

“Delightful,” he said. “I’m in.”

The kitchen was small. He would have done better to remain in one of the other rooms, but he wanted to be with her. She was sautéing the garlic and the onion.

“He’s okay,” he said. “They’re both okay. I’m just being a dick.”

“We do this, what—at most, once or twice a year. I think you can handle it. And when they have the baby—”

“Oh, Christ.”

“When they have the baby, we’ll see even less of them.”

“Holiday cards. Here’s our little sun-chine. See our little sun-chine? Christ.”

“You aren’t the one who’s going to have to go to the baby shower,” she said.

“How much you wanna bet they buy a stroller?”

“A stroller?”

“Yeah, a stroller,” he said. He put cheese on a cracker. “To cart the baby around in.”

“I’m going to wager the odds of a stroller are high,” she said. “But you, if you had a baby, there’d be no stroller, am I right? Because it would be oh so predictable to have a stroller, wouldn’t it.”

“I was thinking we could duct-tape the child,” he said. “It would be cheaper.”

“Like a BabyBjörn, but duct tape.”


“Would the baby face in or out?”

“If it was sleeping, in. Not sleeping, kind of kicking its feet, wanting to see the world, duct-tape it out, so it has a view.”

“Allowing the child to be curious,” she said. “Feeding its desire to marvel at this new experience called life.”

“Something like that.”

“The child must be so relieved that I’m barren,” she said.

He left the kitchen. He stood in the living room with his drink, listening to the sounds of her cooking.

They should have invited Ben and Lauren, too, like last time. Ben and Lauren were more his friends. With Ben and Lauren there, time didn’t move as it did in funeral parlors and in the midwestern churches of his youth. But she had wanted it just the four of them this time, probably so that they could more freely revel in their big news, and there was a limit to how many times he could say, unprompted, “Hey, should we invite Ben and Lauren?” At least he was doing Ben and Lauren a favor.

He returned to the kitchen. “When they come in,” he said, “let’s make them do a shot, both of them.”

“A shot?”

“Of tequila.”

“Her, too?”

“Both of them.”

“To sort of…fortify the baby.”

“We’ll force them somehow,” he said. “I’ll figure it out.”

“Better hurry,” she said.

“All this talk of folic acid and prenatal vitamins. Give me a break. Do they think Attila the Hun got his daily dose of folic acid when he was in the womb? Napoleon?” She was going back and forth across the kitchen while he kept his drink close. “I could go on.”

“George Washington,” she said, “a Founding Father.”

“See? I could go on. Moses.”

“I don’t think she’s going to be willing to do a shot,” she said.

“We trick her somehow. Tell her it’s full of prenatal vitamins, and she shoots it down.”

“Because she just graduated from the third grade,” she said, “and she’s blind and retarded.”

“I’ll think of something,” he said.

He left the kitchen again. On his way back in, he said, “Okay, I’ve got it.”

But the kitchen was empty. Her wedding ring and the one with the diamond were on the counter, where she always put them before starting to cook. The sink had filled with dishes. On the stove, the big pot and the smaller one unfurled steam into the rattling vent. The door under the sink hung open.

“Amy?” he said. No answer. Where was she? He turned and walked back the way he came, through the apartment, in the unlikely event that she had passed by without his noticing as he was lying on the sofa. Then he returned to the kitchen, to the animated appliances and stewing ingredients. She came in through the front door.

“Where’d you go?”

“Took the garbage out,” she said.

“I would have done that.”

“But you didn’t,” she said.

He had come into the kitchen with a whole new approach to the evening, but after she went missing, he was no longer in the mood to provoke her. Instead, he set his drink down and went up to her at the stove. He threaded his arms around her waist as she stirred one of the pots. Years earlier, they’d had a name for this hug. He couldn’t remember what it was now. He kissed her neck, then the back of her hair. Her hair smelled of steam and shampoo and fake wildflowers. “What can I do?” he said.

“You can set the table,” she said.

He set the table. Then he stood with his back to the refrigerator and with a new drink. “So I’ve figured it out,” he resumed. “They bring the bottle of wine, right? We thank them, but we don’t open it. We tuck it away in the kitchen. They never see it again. We start the evening. We don’t ask them what they want to drink. Like it’s just an oversight on our part. Because I know him. Even if she’s not drinking because of the big news, he’ll want a drink. I tell him we ran out. I tell him we’ll open their wine at dinner. But then we don’t. We just have water for the table. Then, in the middle of the meal—”

“No alcohol,” she said. “You should work for al-Qaeda.”

“—in the middle of the meal, I get up and go to the kitchen and I bring back a beer for myself. I open it at the table and take a long drink. What do you think?”

“Sounds promising.”

“He says, ‘Hey, got another one of those?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, actually, this is the last one.’ And then I kill it. Do you think they would leave?”

“Leave? No.”

“Really? They wouldn’t leave after that? Where the hell are they, anyway?”

“They might never come back, but no. They would not leave.”

“You know, they’re good people,” he said. “Ultimately.”

“She’s my oldest friend,” she said. “And he can be very funny.”

“You’re right, he can be funny.”

Later, he came out of the bathroom just as the toilet was completing its roar. She was no longer in the kitchen. He took another cheese and cracker. He walked past the dressed table to the living room. She sat on the sofa reading the same magazine he had been reading. He stood in the middle of the room and held out his hands. “Where are they?”

“If there’s one thing that’s predictable,” she said, “it’s her running late.”

“Sure, but it’s going on forty-five minutes.”

“They’ll be eating some very cold appetizers.”

“Have you cooked the meat?”

“Everything but.”

She casually flipped through the magazine. There was no outrage or impatience. She seemed resigned to waiting as long as it took.

“You should maybe call her,” he said.


“Isn’t this what you wanted?” she asked. “Something unpredictable?”

She was on the phone, calling around. It was nine o’clock, and then it was ten, going on ten thirty. She tried to reach them a dozen times in a dozen different ways. She sent texts and emails. They didn’t pick up and they didn’t reply.

“Not when it interferes with dinner,” he said.

“Nice,” she said. “Magnanimous and humane.”

“Listen, don’t worry about those fucking drips,” he said. “They have fallen asleep watching Friends on DVD, for which they have locked their doors and silenced their phones.”

“Yes?” she said. She was speaking into the phone now. “Okay, thank you. Can you take my number just in case one of them comes in? Thank you.” She left her name and number and hung up.

“Is it really possible,” she said. She was dialing the next number. “Is it really possible that you care about no one but yourself?”

“I’m trying to be helpful.”

“Your help isn’t worth a good goddamn anymore,” she said.

He didn’t like to be reminded. He left the room. “Sure,” she said to the phone. “I love to hold.”

“Is this meat going bad?” he called out. He was in the kitchen. He had finished the cheese and crackers, the mini caprese salad she’d made with grape tomatoes, and the figs wrapped in bacon, caramelized with a homemade glaze. Now he was sitting on a bar stool eating a saucer of the mushroom risotto that was meant to go with the lamb, while staring at the meat on the butcher block. He had opened another bottle of wine. “Hey, babe, this meat? Should we do something with this meat?”

“Stick it up your ass,” she said.

He stopped chewing. He looked with raised eyebrows at the two mustard-seasoned racks of lamb and thought how unpleasant it would be to insert one of their bony ribs into his butthole, but how much fun to walk out into the next room and moon her with a rack of lamb between his cheeks. “Stick it up my ass, huh,” he said. “You know who should stick it up…whose asses…up whose asses it should be stuck up is, are your two friends of yours, their asses. They should stick it up their asses,” he said.

Another hospital had no record, either, and again she left her name and number. She walked into the kitchen. “What are you muttering?”

“There are two racks there, one for each of their asses.”

She put her fingertip on his forehead. “This isn’t like them,” she said, pushing his head back, “and you know it’s not like them, and you’re not being helpful.” She released him, and he sprang back on the stool to an upright position.

“I’m sorry, am I supposed to be helpful?” he said. “Because I thought my help was no longer worth a good goddamn.”

She left the room.

“Wait,” he said. He dropped the risotto to the counter and got off the stool. “Hold on.” He followed her through the dining room. “Obviously, I’m not saying—will you stop? will you listen to me, please?—that I don’t want to be helpful. Will you please turn around and listen?” She stopped and turned. “They just got their dates wrong, is all,” he said, “and tomorrow, when they call, they’ll tell you how sorry they are. They had to turn their phones off during the late showing of Kung Fu Panda or something.”

“So they went to see Kung Fu Panda tonight,” she said.

“Something like that.”

“My adult friends went to see Kung Fu Panda tonight, and they turned their phones off so they wouldn’t ring during Kung Fu Panda. ”

“Or,” he said. “Or.” He put up a finger. They were standing near the bedroom doorway. There was dim light coming from the dark room and he was suddenly irrationally afraid, as he had been as a child, that if anyone stepped inside, if she stepped inside, she would plummet to the center of the earth. He lowered his finger. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t think they went to see Kung Fu Panda.”

“You do not think, period,” she said.

She stepped inside the bedroom. She did not plummet down but floated across the murk into the bathroom. She waited until the door was shut before switching on the light.

He sat on the kitchen floor for thirty minutes. Then he said, “Hey!” He got no response. He stood and went into the bedroom.

He found her in bed. She was in her pajamas. She was propped up against the headboard, reading a book in the lamplight. “What are you doing?”

“Going to bed.”

“The meat is still on the counter,” he said. “There’s food everywhere. Are we just going to let it go to waste? And aren’t you worried about your friends?”

“I’m not hungry,” she said.

“Should you really be reading a book right now?”

“What else would you suggest I do?”

“I don’t know. Go over to their apartment? See if they’re there?”

“I need to wait here in case I get a call from a hospital, or in case they show up.”

He sat down on the bed. He put his head in his hands. He heard the slow turn of one page after another, and then, deeper in the ears, the squishy beat of his sobering heart.

“Well,” he said, looking up. “Would you like me to go over there?”

“What are you going to do about it, big man? Man of steel? Gonna get inside the Absolutmobile and go find the big danger?”

He stared at her.

“It’s too bad we can’t have children,” she said. “If she was ever abducted, what better daddy to go and save her?”

“Her? Is that right? Is it a her?”

“I guess it would be important for you to have a boy, wouldn’t it? So you could pass along all these masculine skills of yours. All your big-man powers.”

He stood up from the bed.

“Do you want me to go over there or not?”


He had been to their apartment a handful of times, but never with so many people in it. It was a sizable apartment with a quirky floor plan and a proliferation of rooms that seemed to spool out one after another. He stepped inside and saw the first of the bedrooms pulsing with a lot of carefully curated candlelight. He saw silhouettes of people there and more in the room to his right. People were coming and going from the kitchen, some louder than others. He did not recognize the man who had opened the door for him.

“Is there a party going on?” he asked.

“Are you a neighbor?”

“Old friend.”

“There’s beer in the fridge,” the man said. He closed the door and turned back to his conversation.

The noisy talk was now crisper than it had been in the hall outside, where he had first picked up on its underwater strains and thought it must be coming from some other apartment. He hesitated before finally drifting down the small corridor to the kitchen. Here, too, the light was dim. More votives cast shadows against the chrome appliances and the ceiling-mounted pots and pans and all the people standing in clusters against the black marble counter. Someone reached into the fridge. The bright, telescoping light broke the ambience, and the door falling shut just as quickly restored it. “The last one of those, you bastard?” someone said. The one addressed mimicked smashing the bottle on the speaker’s head. There was more mimicry of hand-to-hand combat as he drifted out of the kitchen.

He made his way through the rooms. He saw no one he recognized. It was hard to see in the low light, and some people, in the middle of conversations, had their backs to him. He did not want to go around tapping on shoulders or craning his neck conspicuously. He felt self-conscious despite the anonymity afforded by the darkness. He regretted not getting a drink while he was in the kitchen, not only because it had been a while, and because alcohol was helpful in these situations, but because without a drink in hand he felt that much more out of place.

He ended up by the gas fireplace below the mantel and mirror. Solid blue flames licked over fake logs with bulky knots, radiating a dry and passionless heat. No smoke, no ash. Just a steady dull and decorous burn. He stared at it until his eyes began to hurt, letting the competing voices behind him blend into one festive, gibbering blur. When he looked up again, his eyes had hung a scrim of fire between him and the world. He could see only the vaguest shapes, the crudest outlines of people and walls, and then only at his periphery. He waited for the image to dissolve, but before it did completely a familiar voice said, “Well, look who it is.”

He blinked to quicken his vision, which helped, but he didn’t think it could be possible. “Ben?” he said.

“Lauren and I were just wondering where you could be,” Ben said.

“We had plans,” he found himself saying, “earlier in the evening.”

“Where’s Amy?”

“She’s home,” he said. He added, “Not feeling well.”

“Oh, no,” Ben said. “The flu?”

“Flulike,” he said. “Where’s Lauren?”

Ben turned around as if to locate Lauren. When he turned back, he spoke at a much lower register. “Listen, buddy, to your left, at ten o’clock? I’m going to pivot you, okay?” Ben reached out with his beer in hand and turned him a fraction. “Now she’s at noon, right over my shoulder. See her? Do you know who that is?”

“She’s beautiful.”

“Beautiful? Buddy,” he said, “do you have any idea who that woman is?”

“I don’t know who any of these people are,” he said.

Before he could study the woman any closer, he felt a hand on his arm. The grip was thin and hard, shrill, and when he turned to face the gripper, he was face-to-face with Amy’s old friend. “Well,” he said. “Do you know that we’ve been looking for you?”

“Stay right where you are, Ben,” she said. “I have something important to tell you.” She turned from Ben and addressed him. “Walk with me.”

With her grip on him now tighter, she led him through the rooms quickly, much faster than he’d meandered through them on his own. “What the hell’s going on?” he asked. “We’ve been looking for you all night, and you’re having a goddamn party?”

“You promised to wait for me!” she said to a group of people who turned to her all at once.

“Oh, I won’t tell it without you,” a man said, and someone laughed.

She turned back with a smile that quickly disappeared.

“Hey,” he said. “Are you listening to me?”

“Can you please wait?” she asked, without looking at him.

“Where are we going?”

She returned him to the foyer. She finished what was left in her glass and placed it on the floor.

“Should you really be drinking?” he asked.

“It’s cranberry juice,” she said. She opened the door, and they stepped out into the hallway. She waited for the door to close behind her.

“Who invited you to this party?” she asked.

“Who invited me?” he said. “No one invited me. We had dinner plans tonight, the four of us, and you stood us up.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “We did not have dinner plans.”

“I’m afraid, yes, we did,” he said. “We made a huge spread for you guys and bought some very expensive meat, and then I come here and find out you’re having a big party.”

“Now, why would we throw a big party on a night we had plans with you?”

“Why wouldn’t we get an invitation if you were throwing a big party?” he asked.

She didn’t have an answer. People considered her pretty, but she had puffy cheeks and a pouty mouth that had annoyed him from the beginning, even against his will. He had wanted to like her at first, but her kind of mouth he associated with spoiled brats, and her voice didn’t help, nor did the words she spoke. He felt sorry for that baby.

“Can’t answer that, can you?” he said.

“Let me ask you something,” she said. Her mouth, trembling a little, had never looked more punitive or ugly. “Why do you pretend to like us? Why do you invite us to dinner parties when everyone knows you don’t like us, that you’ve been full of contempt for us from the very beginning?”

He was surprised by the forwardness of the question. He was tempted to argue the point. How could she know for certain who he did and did not like?

Instead, he said, “For Amy.” She was silent. “Well, you asked,” he said.


  • Praise for Joshua Ferris's THE DINNER PARTY:
  • A New York Times Notable Book
    Washington Post Notable Fiction
    NPR's Best Books of 2017
    The Guardian Best Books of 2017
    Esquire Best Books of the Year
    The Week Best Books of 2017
  • "A magnificent black carnival of discord and delusion....For some accomplished novelists--and Ferris is one of the best of our day--short stories are mere doodles, warm ups or warm downs, slight variations on themes better addressed at length. Not so for Ferris. Dynamic with speed, yet rich with novelistic density, his stories make The Dinner Party a full-fledged feast."—Will Blythe, New York Times Book Review
  • "Plenty of novels, memoirs and cultural studies have explored the end of men or the failings of masculinity. But Ferris, a darkly comic writer who feels like the novelist equivalent of the filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, has managed to write a series of stories on the subject that feels fresh. His male characters mess up, in small and spectacular fashion, but their misdeeds often prompt our sympathy, thanks to Ferris's insightful narration."—Ian Shapira, The Washington Post
  • "Ferris finesses the line between tragedy and comedy, and his sly wit often surfaces in sarcastic, offbeat ways...The Dinner Party provides a fine showcase for his work."—Heller McAlpin,
  • "Ferris is an incisive observer, and his descriptions of even the most quotidian situations are elegant and fresh."
    Eliot Schrefer, USA Today
  • "Everything comes mordantly alive in the priceless imagination of Ferris....His perverse short narratives do not disappoint."—Janet Maslin, New York Times, Books to Breeze Through This Summer
  • "Observational and piercing, Ferris's short stories expose how fraught and emotionally explosive the search for connection with other human beings can be."—Angela Ledgerwood, Esquire, 20 Best Books of 2017 (so far)
  • "The Dinner Party is a collection of stories about quiet, domestic chaos... I love it. The titular story finds a couple awaiting the arrival of dinner guests who never materialize.... equal parts Cheever and Carver....a strong set of stories about infidelity, jealousy, and neurotic insecurity."—Kevin Nguyen, GQ, Best Books You'll Read In May
  • "This collection hits the sweet spot between character realism and existentially wry musings on modern life... In the past, Mr. Ferris has drawn favorable comparisons with Jonathan Franzen, but this collection shows Mr. Ferris as the funnier of the two. None of Mr. Franzen's novels has been as light or enjoyable to read."
    Nathan Pensky, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • "[Ferris] isn't merely a master of description, but he's got a way of telling us everything we need to know about a character with just a few spare words."—Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times
  • "Ferris's three novels have earned him a reputation as a high-concept high-wire artist, always working the line between comedy and tragedy, the domestic and the outlandish. His stories, by comparison, are compact gems of timing and everyday absurdity, and finally, here they are in one place. Hollywood satire, marriage-ending secrets, cracked minds, broken families: Ferris renders contemporary life as a parade of sad clowns."
    New York Magazine, Top 10 Spring Books preview
  • "A collection that show[s] humanity at its most awkward and insightful."
    New York Observer, 10 Most Anticipated Books of Spring
  • "Ferris has a sure hand when it comes to the nuances of interpersonal relationships. He knows the thin line between awkward and easy, and when silence between two people can be a sign of strain or comfort. Ferris walks this territory so well that we often see our own complicated selves reflected in his writing... Though Ferris' assured collection may seem laced with hints of despair, the stories are full and rounded, sad but often also tinged with humor and rich in empathy."
  • "Ferris has mastered a kind of fictional sucker punch, and he'll get you every time."
  • "[These stories] explore the fraying psychologies of their protagonists by way of dark humor and understated tragedy. In the excellent, surreal title story, the fissures in a childless couple's marriage become unbridgeable divides after their close friends fail to attend a dinner party... contain moments of sharp levity and intense insight...[Ferris is an] immense talent."

    Publishers Weekly
  • "Ferris invites you to make a meal out of his mordant tales about life's quicksilver changes."
    Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair
  • "This season's standout short-story collections are masterful exercises in brevity, proving that sometimes less really is more.... Novelist Joshua Ferris returns with his first, highly anticipated story collection. Each entry showcases his customary wit and understanding."
    Thomas Gebremedhin, Wall Street Journal Magazine
  • "Throughout these 11 stories, the range of settings and characters makes for a recurring sense of surprise...Reading a collection of short stories by an emerging master of the form is one of the great literary pleasures, especially when the writer treats them as a set of variations on a powerful theme. A steady ground bass pulses through all of Ferris' narratives: the fatefulness of our lives, the uncanny and often hilarious ways in which our fragile hearts and massive egos determine our destinies."
    Michael Alec Rose, BookPage
  • "The collection pulls together stories that promise the, 'deeply felt yearnings, heartbreaking absurdity, and redemptive humor of life,' for which Ferris is so well known."
    The Millions
  • "The title story, a remarkable, John Cheever-esque tale, shows a couple preparing dinner for their friends ....[These stories] widen Ferris' range and prove stunning feats of compassion, such as "The Valetudinarian," which follows an early retiree and widower as he blunders with a prostitute. He collapses, and when his neighbor steps in to help, she is "struck dumb by his perfect helplessness." It's Ferris' great gift, and, indeed, readers will surely be struck dumb with empathy for these memorable cranks and depressives."
    Josh Cook, Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • "Displays his gift for dark humor."
    Michael Schaub, A Best Book of May pick in Men's Journal
  • "Ferris's pitch is perfect. These moments of crisis and compassion, humanity and wit, are perfect episodes of some television series that doesn't need serialization to make you want to keep coming back for more. They aren't chapters, leading to some conclusion, they are moments, shading, changing, building lives."
    Greg Hudson, Sharp
  • "Exposes the true, and sometimes absurdly comic, wiles of men who flail through life in remarkably routine fashion."—The Fader
  • "Tales of divorce and marriages falling apart weave together a complex understanding of human emotion that surpasses the family drama settings and reminds us why Joshua Ferris is a talent to be reckoned with."
    Ilana Masad, Read it Forward, Favorite Reads of May 2017
  • "Joshua Ferris is the master of capturing the ennui of the modern world without getting bogged down by the details-even his most minute or quotidian observations carry with them the sweeping and even, sometimes, spiritual."
    Jaime Green, Google Play Summer Reading
  • "Ferris reveals himself as an heir to the work of John Cheever... The Dinner Party's lightning flashes of insight are yet further evidence of [Ferris's] talent."
    Harvey Freedenberg, Book Reporter
  • "[Ferris] brings wit and grace to the dark corners of human nature and shines a light into the beautiful complexity of ordinary lives."
    Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post, Summer 2017 Reads
  • "Compelling...Ferris' writing is dark, funny and cold."—Trine Tsouderos, The Chicago Tribune
  • "To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is beautifully written. It's also funny, thought-provoking, and touching. One hesitates to call it the Catch-22 of dentistry, but it's sort of in that ballpark. Some books simply carry you along on the strength and energy of the author's invention and unique view of the world. This is one of those books."—Stephen King
  • "This is one of the funniest, saddest, sweetest novels I've read since Then We Came to the End. When historians try to understand our strange, contradictory era, they would be wise to consult To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. It captures what it is to be alive in early 21st-century America like nothing else I've read."—Anthony Marra, author of New York Times bestseller A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
  • "Gut-bustingly funny... its wit is so sharp, its fake-biblical texts ... so clever and its reach so big ... It's an eminently worthy nominee for the Booker Prize or any other... a major achievement."—Janet Maslin, New York Times
  • A "wry, intelligent novel that adroitly navigates the borderland between the demands of faith and the persistence of doubt...In seizing upon both the transitory oddities of contemporary life and our enduring search for meaning, Joshua Ferris has created a winning modern parable...He's a gifted satirist with a tender heart, and if he continues to find targets as worthy as the ones he skewers here, his work should amuse and enlighten us for many years to come."—Shelf Awareness
  • "Enjoy the first great novel about social-media identity theft. . . . It's an atheist's pilgrimage in search not of God but of community . . . O'Rourke's search feels genuine, funny, tragic, and never dull. It'll also leave you flossing with a vengeance."—Boris Kachka, GQ
  • "[Ferris] shrewdly stages a kind of theological symposium in [an] uncomfortably intimate place, conducted halfway between levity and overeager sincerity... It's a pleasure watching this young writer confidently range from the registers of broad punchline comedy to genuine spiritual depth. The complementary notes of absurdity, alienation and longing read like Kurt Vonnegut or Joseph Heller customized for the 21st Century."—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
  • "A novel that raises questions about meaning and belonging, even if the only answer is that we will never know...This is the novel's peculiar brilliance, to uncover its existential stakes in the most mundane tasks...[a] curiously provocative novel."—David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
  • "To Rise Again at a Decent Hour reminds us that even existential suffering can prove both charming and hilarious...Ferris has written an arresting novel, a playfully ironic riff on how a man can come to know himself...the cumulative effect of the novel tugs the heart just as surely as it sparks the mind."—Bruce Machart, Houston Chronicle
  • "Brilliant...Ferris has managed to blend the clever satire of his first book...with the grinding despair of his second . . . The result is a witty story. At his best, which is most of the time, Ferris spins Paul's observations and reflections into passages of flashing comedy that sound like a stand-up theologian suffering a nervous breakdown."— Ron Charles, The Washington Post
  • "An engrossing and hilariously bleak novel . . . This splintering of the self hasn't been performed in fiction so neatly since Philip Roth's Operation Shylock."—John Freeman, Boston Globe
  • "A story made exhilarating by Ferris' wickedly dark humor and keen intelligence. The brilliant prose...never preens. It simply pulls the reader along in an effortlessly smooth ride. Ferris makes the tug-of-war between Paul's searching mind and his low spirits utterly fascinating...Ferris' three novels place him in grand company among our younger novelists. . . . All the same, he's a unique American original."—Dan Cryer, The San Francisco Chronicle
  • "Ferris's trademark blend of dark satire and ominous absurdity suits his subject, and his focus on one character allows him to perform a psychological excavation of his subject in conjunction with his examination of modern life...The result is a stimulating, bittersweet read."—Claire Fallon, The Huffington Post
  • "The author has proved his astonishing ability to spin gold from ordinary air . . . Ferris's third novel falls somewhere between the voice-driven power of the first [novel] and the idea-driven metaphor of the second . . . [He] remains as brave and adept as any writer out there."— Lauren Goff, The New York Times Book Review
  • "[An] alternately sad and hilarious new book...To Rise Again at a Decent Hour showcases the wit, intelligence and keen eye for workplace absurdity the author displayed to such great effect in his first novel . . . a welcome outlet for Ferris' enormous virtuosity as a philosopher and storyteller. Ferris raises profound questions about the role of faith, not just in belonging, but in living."— Daniel Akst, Newsday
  • "[Ferris has] the keen ability to traverse the high wire of satire and lyricism, to at once write a sentence that can drop a reader's jaw, then make them giggle in the next . . . a writer perfectly at ease with both the bleakly absurd and the deeply humane, using them equally in hopeful pursuit of a redemptive truth."—Gregg LaGambina, The A.V. Club
  • "Suffice it to say that To Rise Again at a Decent Hour isn't just one of the best novels of the year, it's one of the funniest, and most unexpectedly profound, works of fiction in a very long time."—Michael Schaub,
  • "With almost Pynchon-esque complexity, Ferris melds conspiracy and questions of faith in an entertaining way...Full of life's rough edges, the book resists a neat conclusion, favoring instead a simple scene that is comic perfection... Smart, sad, hilarious and eloquent, this shows a writer at the top of his game and surpassing the promise of his celebrated debut."—Kirkus (Starred Review)

On Sale
May 29, 2018
Page Count
256 pages
Back Bay Books

Joshua Ferris

About the Author

Joshua Ferris is the author of three previous novels, Then We Came to the End, The Unnamed and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, and a collection of stories, The Dinner Party. He was a finalist for the National Book Award, winner of the Barnes and Noble Discover Award and the PEN/Hemingway Award, and was named one of The New Yorker's "20 Under 40" writers in 2010. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour won the Dylan Thomas Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, and Best American Short Stories. He lives in New York.

Learn more about this author