Review: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

the unnamedThis is going to be one of those novels that I don’t remember a month from now. So let me front-load this review with a plot overview. Basically there’s this guy, married lawyer with a teenage daughter, who has this affliction where he starts walking and can’t stop. His wife has to pick him up wherever he is when his legs finally quit on him. He’s been to doctors, he’s been featured in the New England Journal of Medicine, and tried multiple forms of therapy. Nothing works.

As the novel progresses, Tim’s condition becomes worse and his body deteriorates as a result of the walking thing. Exposure to cold leaves his fingers frostbitten. He experiences hallucinations. Organs fail. Mentally, he loses touch. He has to quit his job and leave his family behind, occasionally checking in with them, but without control over his body, he doesn’t want them to have to chase him all over kingdom come.

“The Unnamed,” I think, refers to all of the moments that pass us by without us really noticing. All of the little details in life. Later in the novel, after many years have passed, Tim comes to visit his cancer-stricken wife in the hospital. She asks him what he saw when he was walking. He confesses that he wasn’t paying attention, so he makes a conscious effort to focus on the details so he can describe it to her.

How did I feel about The Unnamed?

Ambivalent, actually. I had read “Then We Came to the End,” a wonderful novel by Ferris, and expected great things from this book, which I chose as part of the TBR Pile Challenge. While it is spectacularly written, I was just not as engaged in Tim’s story as I was with the gaggle of co-workers at the center of his earlier novel. And like Tim’s walks, the book meandered on without any seeming direction. Even though  Tim is a sympathetic character, there’s nothing compelling about him other than his affliction. I can’t even remember his wife’s name and I just finished this novel last night. His daughter is a teenager when the book begins, but an adult with a son at the book’s end. We miss all the in-between.

So, not completely giving up on Ferris’ work, but he’s had one amazing and one dud as far as I’m concerned.

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