Book Review: “The Unnamed” by Joshua Ferris

I have a hunch that “The Unnamed” is going to be a fairly polarizing book among readers.  I think folks will either really like this novel, or pan it.  It’s that sort of story.

Tim Farnsworth is a successful Manhattan attorney and lives with his wife and daughter in the suburbs.  Tim works too much, but he loves it.  His family has all the creature comforts they could want.  And then one day, Tim starts walking and can’t make himself stop.  He walks and walks until he passes out.  And the worst part?  This isn’t the first time.

What follows is an examination into the nature of the self (the mind and the body), family, and society.  Is Tim crazy?  What does it mean that he has an affliction that the best neurologists in the world have never seen before and can’t diagnose?

There are some pretty big themes that Ferris brings to bear in this work:  the struggle of the mind versus the body, man versus nature, religion versus science, and the basic “for better for worse” marriage proposition.  Some are pretty clearly stated, while others are more subtly inferred.  In the end, Ferris asks us to confront (as we see through Tim’s eyes) what life would be like if our cocoon of creature comforts was suddenly unavailable.  What would you do?  Because that world – whether the city, the hospital bed, or the outdoors – is an unforgiving place.  And when your choices are taken away, do you cease being you?


The Unnamed


Now that all sounds heavy and philosophical (and it is) but the book itself isn’t, because primarily this is a story about Tim and his family.  I came to really “feel” the characters in this book, especially Tim’s wife Jane, who makes some pretty hard choices throughout.  And some of the scenes between them are simply heartbreaking.  Ferris’ simple prose approach is disarming, because from it he constructs scenes and dialog that are capable of soaring joy and as well as an emotional gut-punch.

The book is really in two halves: the first in which Tim tries to manage his disease in his “normal” life, and the second in which Tim tries to manage his life while being diseased.  The first was more compelling to me and if felt like there was some dragging in the second half.  Still, I found this to be a fascinating book that because of its outlandish affliction (rather than something more mundane but still life and lifestyle-threatening like cancer or Parkinson’s) causes the reader to step outside the “normal” and examine our place: in our world, our society, our family and even in our own body.

4 out of 5 stars

8 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Unnamed” by Joshua Ferris

  1. Interesting premise, need to add it to my book list. I’m just about to begin a book called Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne. Came recommended by a co-worker. I’ll post a review when done.

  2. Pingback: Good Burger Books | Stevil

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