The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

A successful lawyer is stricken by a mysterious illness that makes him walk, walk, walk, unable to slow down or stop until his body collapses from exhaustion miles from home.

The Unnamed is soaked in misery, both the mysterious and the more pedestrian. Tim’s walking fits threaten his job, his marriage, his security, and even his physical integrity, and he’s powerless to stop.

Author Joshua Ferris wisely avoids using Tim’s condition as a literal metaphor, as easy as that might be. If anything, he yearns for stability and commitment, to be rooted instead of having liberation forced upon him. There’s no hidden midlife crisis here, only a man whose body is making him run away.

Tim’s wife Jane loves him deeply, but his latest fit of walking has sent her spiraling into alcoholism, even as their daughter Becka tries to reassure her that the walking will stop like it always has in the past. Jane is tired of picking him up in strange neighborhoods, tired of packing his go-bag so that he can take care of himself while on his walks, tired of tending to his broken body.

For me, as engaged as I was in Tim’s story, intrigued by the unique situation and impressed with the emotional depth wrought by Ferris, by the end I felt buried under the weight of all the misery. The last lines allude to a possible metaphorical interpretation that’s not at all what I expected, but I also could have been reading too much into it–wanting something to be there that wasn’t. Anyway, the glimmers of hope that shot the story through ultimately weren’t enough to outweigh the despair of Tim’s condition.

Many thanks to Hachette Book Group for the review copy.

4 thoughts on “The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris”

  1. I read And Then We Came to the End, and I was so curious about what Ferris could possibly do next. I’m not a big fan of enormous misery, though, but I think I’ll probably at least give it a try.

  2. Well, it’s very – it’s very unusual. It’s set in an office at the popping of the dotcom bubble, and Ferris uses the first person plural to narrate. I think it’s cool but a bit gimmicky – hence my curiosity about his future projects!

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