The Unnamed: A Review

Joshua Ferris’ second novel, The Unnamed, is a book best read by daylight. It’s a book that has to be read piecemeal, chunked into digestible bites, partially because of the disturbing plot, partially because of the purple prose. Tim Farnsworth is a lawyer at a firm reminiscent of Boston Legal’s Crane, Poole, & Schmidt – it’s a less farcical, more real world take, complete with kinky fetishes and ass-kissing wannabes looking for an in to the upper echelons. Forced to leave due to what, we slowly discover, is a pathological need to walk, the book chronicles Tim’s frustrations with his condition, bouncing from the shock of a relapse to normality and work, to a second relapse and a pathetic kind of acceptance all within the space of 313 pages. Throughout, Tim and the separate, third person narrator take turns assuring the reader that Tim’s condition is a disease, a purely physical illness with no mental component. But the constant reminders soon take on a doth-protest-too-much feel, and I found myself looking for signs of Tim’s psychological issues, paying less and less attention to the more central “see how illness can affect a family” theme. Vivid descriptions of weather and feet abound; there are only so many ways an author can write about walking before the text becomes trite, the metaphors overused. The third person telling creates a distance that’s hard to get past, making sympathy, let alone empathy, a difficult ask of even the most compassionate reader. Add to that Tim’s overwhelming self-pity, followed by a period of almost ridiculous self-sacrifice, and you have a story so ripe it...