Author: Joshua Ferris
# Pages: 310
Date Published: 2010
5-Star Rating: 4
Would you recommend it?: Yes
Tim Farnsworth walks for hours—miles and miles—in one direction. Even though he is a lawyer with places to go, he does not know where he’s headed or why. He will start without warning and end only when his body cannot fathom another step. Physically incapable of resisting, Tim is forced into continuous motion until his body decides it has had enough, and he collapses wherever he stands. This is the affliction of The Unnamed.
The disease seems benign, even commonplace. So what? He walks for a few miles and then falls asleep? Sounds like something a doctor would prescribe, not medicate. But Tim’s legs have a mind of their own, and no doctor or specialist can explain what motivates Tim’s body. No medicine or therapy can cure this affliction. It arrives at random, and there is no indication of when it will release him again. The unnamed disease does not care about the elements of nature or society, and Tim is lucky if he has time to grab his survival pack before he is thrust into the streets. He has no choice but to submit to its will, its power multiplying in its anonymity.
The desperate search for a name for his disease, some sort of legitimacy, plagues Tim and his family. As his wife, Jane, picks him up at odd hours from shady back alleys and random neighborhoods miles from their home, it is clear that Tim’s inexplicable affliction seeps into the lives of those around him. To his uninformed coworkers, Tim’s unannounced walking spells are rude egresses that lead them to question his status at the illustrious firm. Professional doubt only heightens Tim’s personal doubt, and his desire to prove himself as master of his own body and mind dominates the narrative. When it is clear that mental restraint is not the driving factor, Tim and Jane resort to physical constraints. How does a child forget seeing her father handcuffed to his bed, legs writhing in anxious pain—the only way to keep him from roaming the streets at night? Tim’s daughter Becka acts as a ghostly eye that absorbs her father’s illness and her mother’s anguish, watching as an unnamed disease consumes her parents’ lives and her childhood. The reader continuously asks the questions that leave characters desolate and isolated when they confront them themselves: What will they sacrifice? When will they break? Will hope eventually die?
While The Unnamed has moments of genuine connection, it will leave readers frustrated, questioning, and affected. The reading experience is one of focused immersion. Ferris pulls his readers into the trials of love, marriage, and family, and they will not be able to stop moving through the time and space of this narrative. They will walk with Tim into the wee hours of the night, watch as Jane sacrifices herself (sometimes out of love, sometimes out of matrimonial loyalty), and wonder if Becka can ever make peace with a disease that stole stability from her upbringing. The narrative’s emotional and physical demands will have reader questioning the mind, the body, and whether or not they are one in the same. The final pages are philosophical and haunting, and Ferris leaves readers with the harsh but realistic truths about closure and what one must endure in order to move on.
Review by Lauren Bly, A&S '15