The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

4 03 2010

I’m not an athletic person, I never have been.  I’ve never been able to do a cartwheel, or a pull up, or stretch further than my toes.  Even was I was very young, I’d rather read than run around.  I remember in elementary school, for some reason I wanted to go across the monkey bars.  I was never able to make it the full way, I just couldn’t seem to figure out the motion needed to propel myself past the mid-way point.  So, I was trying yet again to succeed, and instead I fell hard and got the wind knocked out of me.  I just remember laying on the ground, gasping, tears springing to my eyes even though I wasn’t really crying, too shocked to feel any pain yet, and staring up at the sky – it was a gorgeous day, the sky was Crayola Sky Blue and there were a couple of puffy white clouds – and it was this perfect frozen moment of panic and peace.

I’d forgotten about that until I read The Unnamed.  I had this familiar anxiety throughout the book and it took me a while to put my finger on it, but when I’d finally finished and I was laying in my bed, staring at the ceiling, it came flooding back to me.  I know this doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but OMG, it so is.  This book was beautiful and heart wrenching and funny and it left me breathless and shaking and exhilarated.

The Unnamed is about a very sick man, but his disease is unique to him.  He is compelled to walk – think restless leg syndrome on hyperdrive.  He has no control over where he goes or when he starts or when it stops; he walks until he collapses, passing out on park benches or in an alley.  He’s been to specialists of every sort, he and his wife have tried everything they can think of to control it.  And twice before, after several months of walking, it has stopped – the illness going dormant and forgotten for years.  Now it is back and this is where we join him, and his wife and teen daughter, as they struggle to deal with a serious illness that is unlike any other.  At least with cancer or Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or whatever, people know what you’re talking about – this has no name, no treatment, it doesn’t even sound serious.  But this disease is as absolutely devastating as anything else and their journey is powerful and gut-wrenching.

Of course, it is so good because it is written so beautifully. Every word was necessary and exactly where it needed to be.  The characters were flawed and real.  Everything felt true.  Joshua Ferris is spectacular, and you absolutely must read his debut Then We Came To The End.  I’m always a little awestruck by writers that I love, especially when they are able to produce two completely different yet equally outstanding books.  I recommend that everyone read both of them and I cannot wait to see what he does next.

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One response

11 03 2010
pseudoswashbuckler

Yeah, I have to say that the ordeal of yours on the monkey bars is evocative of this book: the body failing in what you’re strangely compelled to do, and the relief you feel when you realize you no longer have to do it, because you can’t.

There’s something sublime going on in this book. What would you say is the reason Tim has to walk? I’m trying to gather opinions from other readers who seem affected by The Unnamed as I was.

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