20 May 2010

Review: The Unnamed

Joshua Ferris completely hooked me with his first book, Then We Came to the End. It was an almost Heller-esque portrayal of office-life. Well, if you know me, "Heller-esque" is about the best characteristic I can think of in a book: the portrayal of both the banal and phenomenal in an absurd light makes for great reading.

So I eagerly anticipated his second offering. Released in January of this year, and titled The Unnamed, V and I picked up a copy at Borders a little later. I've just finally gotten around to reading it, and it was worth the wait. (She did read it before I did, and you can find her review here). It is the tale of Tim Farnsworth, a man with an unnamed disease. You see, Tim goes for walks. But not like those that you or I take, rather these are walks that come upon him suddenly and which he cannot control. His body forces him to walk and the only thing it does otherwise is avoid danger (somehow). After countless doctors and innumerable attempts to figure out what is wrong (is it psychological or physiological?), Tim and his wife have pretty much given up hope of ever ending it.

But the "disease" does go into remission, and during those periods, they're able to live a peaceful life with their daughter. Tim is a partner at a powerful law firm in New York City, and he's got a client that he needs to get off the hook for murder. As the case is readying to begin though, the disease comes back.

Now it doesn't seem like walking would be such a problem. We all do it, after all. But Tim walks to the point of exhaustion, and then falls asleep wherever his body needs to. He doesn't always know where he is, and her certainly can't control when it begins. So he has to keep a backpack with necessities in it with him at all times. And in the winter, he needs appropriate clothes.

The story is really well written, and the best parts are those in which we see the cracks in the relationship between Tim and his wife. There's an obvious and deep love, but the strain the disease puts on both of them is extreme. The thing I've noticed about Ferris is that I don't always love his plots, but he excels at writing about interpersonal relationships so well that I can overlook that. The books are character studies, and the plots are merely instruments to manipulate and expose that character.

It's definitely worth a read, and you'll be thinking about it for days. And if you haven't read Ferris's first book, grab that one too. It's probably the better of the two, but that doesn't mean you should skip The Unnamed, even if you have to walk to the bookstore to get it.

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