Thursday, January 28, 2010

Book Review: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

Tim Farnsworth is a successful lawyer with a seemingly happy life – an adoring wife, Jane, with whom he travels around the world, a teen daughter, Becka, and a lovely large house. But Tim hides a secret – he is sometimes afflicted with the compulsion to walk and stay walking until he passes out from exhaustion. During his previous episodes, he tried all manner of treatments, but no doctor knows what to do to help him. And now, it’s back.

Stylistically, the writing here matches the tone of the story – it flows so well yet is brutal and unsympathetic as it sweeps you along with its strong current. “This is real life,” it seems to say. “Real life is messy, it’s unfair, and it doesn’t wait around for you to pull yourself together.” If Ferris is hard on Tim – making him lose his career, his comforts, his fingers to frostbite, and eventually his mind – he’s just as hard on Jane and Becka, though he doesn’t give them near enough face time. Jane is portrayed as the kind of woman to stand by her man even when he doesn’t want her to, and frankly doesn’t deserve it. But she’s not a saint – she’s an alcoholic. Becka is grumpy and no amount of exercise or dieting can rid her of her considerable girth.

As if to really drive home his themes of hopelessness and pointlessness of life (I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 1:2-3), Ferris introduces a subplot concerning an innocent man accused of murder and lest the rest of world think it’s off the hook, bees seem to be dying in large swarms.

This is far from Ferris’ highly praised first novel THEN WE CAME TO AN END (which I reviewed here), so if nothing else, it shows he has range.

THE UNNAMED came out this month in hardcover. Find out more about it at the author’s website.

12 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I'm glad to see this is good! Since you enjoyed it, you should join The Reagan Arthur Books Challenge!

Heidi Willis said...

I started Then We Came to the End last year and really enjoyed it for about 50 pages. Then the voice started to sound very repetitious and grating, and I didn't end up finishing it, even though it got such rave reviews. I may have to go back eventually and try again.

This one hasn't gotten near the reviews, but it sounds like an interesting plot. I'm not sure I want to get into a book whose characters I can't root for, though.

Hmmm... is it worth the read?

Staci said...

Have thought about picking this one up a time or two...I still may. Loved your thoughts on this one Lenore.

Becky said...

What an interesting premise for a novel! Great review.

brizmus said...

"This is real life. Real life is messy." :-P Sounds good!

Beth Kephart said...

I've been reading many of the reviews of this book — there seems to be a sort of ... what? ... response to the premise. I love getting your take on it.

Jenn (Books At Midnight) said...

Wow, what a premise. It's definitely original, and The Unnamed sounds like a gritty read. Hm, I'm wondering where this book will go... Great review, and thank you! :D

Kathleen said...

I've read about this book on a few other blogs. I am so intrigued with the premise of the book and can't wait to read it!

trish said...

I'm glad you liked it! I agree that Becka could have had more face time, but I really liked how she developped in the background, and how Ferris showed us that.

Daisy Whitney said...

I love to see the range of books you review here, Lenore!

Serena said...

I've seen this reviewed lately and have been intrigued by the reviews. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Zibilee said...

This is another book I am really excited to read. I am glad that you enjoyed it so much and that it prompted you to think so deeply. Great review, I will have to come back to it after I have read the book.