Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

I've been struggling with this review since I finished The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris a few weeks ago.  I'm torn.  I can not point to any one scene or part of this book I loved, yet when I reflect on the feeling of this book as a whole, good or bad, I feel like I could write for hours.  Don't worry, I won't!  At least, I'll try not to.

The Unnamed centers on the story of Tim Farnsworth - husband, father, attorney.  From the outside looking in, he's a man living the dream of a perfect family, beautiful wife, and successful career.  Underneath the facade is a tortured man who suffers from an unnamed illness.  He walks.  And he can't stop.  He will literally walk until he collapses miles away in the freezing cold with nothing more than the clothes on his back and a "survival pack" his wife made up for him to carry everywhere just in case the urge to walk seizes him.  Is it mental?  Is it physical?  His condition is so unique, he appears in a medical journal.  He wants validation that he's not suffering from a mental illness.  His wife, Jane, lives in a constant state of worry, since she's the one who worries when he's late coming from work, and then has to go and rescue him from wherever his body lands when it is too exhausted to continue walking.  The partners at his law firm think it's Jane who is sick when he walks out of a client meeting.  His teenage daughter, Becka, just thinks he's mental.

Tim Farnsworth is human.  He's selfish, and proud, and stubborn.  He has relapses of this illness, never knowing what sets him off, never knowing when it's going to stop.  Still, in between it all, he seems to ignore the fact that it turns his wife and his daughter's life upside down.  He wants to find a name for his illness, not necessarily so he can cure it, but so he can validate his situation.  This character is flawed and human, but I had a hard time empathizing with him, which left a gap where there could have been a connection.

Despite not finding a connection with the main character, Tim and Jane's marriage was the only thing I could connect with, particularly from Jane's perspective.  Her sacrifice for the love of her life, the man with whom she vowed to stay with for better or worse, in sickness and in health, kept me turning the pages.  Here's an example of why. When Tim disappeared on one of his walking fits, it was a full time job looking for him, going to pick him up, or simply dropping everything to follow him:
That was always the impulse when she finally located him:  I have to go get him.  And when she got to him:  never let him go. 
Jane's character was well developed, accessible, and as human and real as Tim's, but it was her growth that kept me interested.  I think if not for Jane, the book, and Tim himself, would have fallen apart at the seams.

The Unnamed was a tough read and most definitely out of my comfort zone.  I would not have picked this book up on my own, so many thanks to Reagan Arthur Books and the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge for putting this book in my hands.  It wasn't one of my favorites, but I am glad I read it. 

If you would like to read more reviews of The Unnamed:

Stephanie's Written Word
The Book Lady's Blog
Booking Mama
Trish/Hey Lady

About the Author:
Joshua Ferris’s first novel, Then We Came to the End, was a National Book Award finalist, Barnes & Noble Discover Award winner and New York Times bestseller. He lives in New York To find out more information and see his tour schedule, visit him on

About the Book:
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books; 1 edition (January 18, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0316034010
ISBN-13: 978-0316034012

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris is one of the books I read for the Reagan Arthur Challenge, hosted by Kathy/Bermuda Onion & Julie/Booking Mama. If you would like to know more about the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge, please click on any of these links, or the image on my left sidebar, and join in!

Next up in the challenge: Black Hills by Dan Simmons

FTC Statement:  A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher

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S. Krishna said...

I really loved this book. I thought it was beautifully written, though like you, I couldn't connect with Tim. I did love Jane and the depiction of their marriage though. This was definitely outside my comfort zone as well.

Alison said...

I know I'm in the minority when I say I didn't love this book, but that's what the book blogging world is all about, isn't it?

S. Krishna - I'm glad you enjoyed the book, and connected with Jane the way I did. By all means, feel free to post a link to your review!

bermudaonion said...

It sounds like the book made you think and has stuck with you. I'm really curious about Jane now.

Elisabeth said...

What an excellent review. All of your fellow reviewers understand how hard it is sometime, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Greg Zimmerman said...

I liked the book too, but I certainly wasn't blown away. I kept trying to figure out what Tim's "walking disease" was a symbol for. Or was it just the vehicle which allowed Ferris to examine a relationship under a unique kind of stress?

Check out my review here, if you're interested:

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