The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

Title:  The Unnamed
Author:  Joshua Ferris
Release date:  January 18, 2010
Publisher:  Reagan Arthur Books
Pages:  320
Genre:  Fiction
Source:  Library

Tim Farnsworth has an incredibly average, comfortable life in the suburbs.  He is a successful lawyer with a beautiful wife, Jane, who still loves him.  They have a daughter, Becka, who is a typical teenager but deep down loves her parents and has a decent relationship with them both.  Unfortunately, Tim suffers from an unnamed illness that causes him to walk uncontrollably, for days at a time, until he passes out somewhere and Jane has to come pick him up, take him home, only to discover him gone, out walking, again the next morning.  And on and on.  And as Tim relapses several times, as he goes to various doctors, none of whom can figure out the cause of his walking, Tim and Jane’s marriage is tested beyond the bounds of their worst nightmares.

The story behind my reading of The Unnamed will tell you the power of book blogs.  I would NEVER have picked this up if it weren’t for all the rave reviews I saw.  The premise did not intrigue me, I’ll be honest.  But when I saw Trish’s review (who gave it 100 out of 100, something she almost NEVER does) and then Rebecca’s review (who generally has taste similar to my own), I knew I had to read it.  I saw it on audio at my library and couldn’t resist.  I’m here to tell you that The Unnamed is really, really good.  I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that it will be my favorite book of 2010, but it is really a fabulous book.

As has already been said about this book, it is more about the relationship between Tim and Jane than anything else.  It is about the realities of a marriage built upon real, honest love, and about how far that love can really go when faced with a trial such as Tim’s disease.  Jane quite literally will go to the ends of the earth for Tim, she will pick him up anywhere in the country he ends up walking to, not only because she loves him but also because she made a vow on their wedding day and that vow means something to her.  She also has her moments of weakness, of course.  She has times when she behaves very selfishly and isn’t there for him, physically or emotionally, when she is needed most.  And although Tim loves her very much, he behaves selfishly in a lot of ways as well.  Despite the overwhelming evidence that his disorder is psychological, Tim is beyond convinced that there is a physical cause for his walking.  Despite the fact that late in the book anti-psychotic drugs help alleviate his symptoms, he never once considers the possibility that there could be a psychological reason for his walks.  This failure to see what could be really going on causes both him and Jane years of pain and anguish.  But it is clear that he really loves Jane, and would do anything physically possible to care for her, too, as the entire last third of the book illustrate painfully.

If you are looking for answers in The Unnamed, you will have to look elsewhere, as Ferris rarely provides them.  What he provides instead is a quiet examination of a man’s struggles and a truly inspiring love story.  The beauty of the love between Jane and Tim cannot be explained, it has to be experienced.  I love that Ferris didn’t wrap it up in a tight little package at the end, he let things end in a realistic way, and allowed the reader to draw his/her own conclusions about the cause of Tim’s disorder.  The last quarter of the book left me breathless and when I finished it I felt like I ran a marathon, it took such an emotional toll on me.

The Unnamed is a book that begs to be savored, to be read slowly, to be experienced.  However, it is so darn good that I challenge you to read it slowly – you will want to fly through it just like I did.  I highly recommend The Unnamed. It is also a book that begs to be discussed – with that said, what are your thoughts on this book?


24 thoughts on “The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris”

  1. I loved it too! I’m with Kathy on this one — you have to join us for The Reagan Arthur Books Challenge. It’s going to be fun if THE UNNAMED is any indication of the quality of books.

  2. I hadn’t really planned to read this book, but your review has intrigued me. Sounds like the type of book I’d enjoy, especially since it’s not wrapped up neatly at the end.

  3. I have been on the fence with this one but since you liked it while initially being uninspired to read it, perhaps I will give it a chance. Thanks for your review!

  4. The lovely boyfriend picked this up for me – autographed! – for Valentine’s Day and I can’t wait to finish the two library books I have out to start this lovely gem!

  5. I’m on the fence about this book too. I enjoyed And Then We Came to the End, but the plot synopsis of this doesn’t sound like something I would love. This review does make me want to check it out though!

  6. I’m about billionth on the hold list at my library. There have been so many good reviews for this book (this one included) and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

  7. I liked this book well enough but found myself picking up and finishing other books while I was reading this one. So I didn’t fly through it like you did. All in all, the premise was really interesting and I really wanted to get to the end to find out how it all ended.

  8. I’m stoked you really liked it! Interestingly enough, I went to see Ferris, and he said the book is about what happens to people when you take away what their career, something people often identify themselves with. I didn’t think of Tim as selfish, but now that you mention it, I guess he was. I figured his unnamed disease was linked to his schizophrenia, which, as you know, shows up later. Perhaps the two were unrelated, but that’s not how I viewed it.

    Anyway, great review! Glad you’re preaching the good word about THE UNNAMED.

  9. I’ve never been more excited for a book to come out. This marked the first time I’ve ever pre-ordered a book in my life. I felt like a member of the Harry Potter cult, checking my mailbox every day waiting for it.
    I really enjoyed your review. Personally, I’ve been working really closely with “Then We Came To The End,” I’m writing my college thesis on the first-person plural as a narrative mode; so that and “The Virgin Suicides” have been like bibles for me for the last six months. That being said, I liked “The Unnamed” equally, if not more than his first novel. It really shows his prowess as a writer to bring the same sense of comic observance to a piece so directly tied to substantial loss and pain. Initially I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but it did–and thank god for that.
    P.S. Is he going to tour for this book any more in the U.S.?

  10. I’m halfway through this at the moment and not loving it. I’m struggling to understand why people are raving about it – perhaps something wonderful is going to happen before the end that will make it all clear to me? I’ll definitely finish it, but I do find myself reaching for other things to read in between times.

    And was anyone else reminded of ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ while reading this? You know, long suffering wife stuck caring for a man with a rare strange ailment that affects him without warning?

  11. Back again – I finished ‘The Unnamed’ but was not at all impressed. Why are people raving about this book? I just don’t get it. The premise sounded good and all, but I found it dreary and disjointed and it seemed to drag on forever.

    Seems like I’m not the only person who feels this way either:

    “If you took the scenes from Forrest Gump where Tom Hanks runs across the country several times and mixed that with some sections of The Time Travelers Wife, you’d have an idea of what this book is like.” (review over at Good Reads)

    I guess we can’t all like everything though, can we?

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