9.01.2010

Joshua Ferris' The Unnamed

Though The Unnamed received positive reviews from some critical corners (like Publishers Weekly), I had an incredibly difficult time understanding why. The writing is stellar, so that goes in the plus column, but the plot, characters, and themes fall flat.

Tim Farnsworth, a happily married and successful attorney, contracts an unnamed (hence the title) disease that compels him to walk until his body collapses in exhaustion. Despite years of testing and hoping, no doctor is able to discover why he walks compulsively and why his brain can't control his body. Jane, his devoted wife, does everything she can to help him, falling into alcoholism as a result, yet he keeps walking...and walking...and walking...

...and the plot spirals into monotony. Yes, there are a few moments of unique social insight, and Ferris' exploration of Jane's struggle with her husband's illness and the impact it has on her psyche is good, but it is not revelatory, and it doesn't go anywhere. There is no character development, no plot arc, no resolution (though we spend a very long time in exposition), and no effort to investigate, or imagine how one could overcome this challenge. The disease ruins Tim and his family's lives, and, though regrettable, a chance to watch a man sink into depression, destitution and insanity without reprieve or retribution is not my idea of a good time, or a mark of a good book. Had Ferris attempted to pick up the end of the novel with a gesture towards triumph, the novel might have been saved. As it is, it is a depressing gaze into the black hole of victimization and no choices.

1 comment:

  1. It wasn't so much the monotony that got to me, but more the fact that the book didn't develop as well as it could have. There were many moments I liked in "The Unnamed", but many I didn't either... I actually quite enjoyed the ending, though. I felt Ferris did a good job of closing the book with that vague, spiraling ending. I know what you mean, though, about the resolution versus exposition. A book with potential, but too many problems.

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