Mswas’ CBR-III Review #19 – The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris07/09/2011
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris caught my attention right away. The book starts with an unnamed man heading home from work in a taxi. On the way, he thinks about how he will lose his house, his family and everything that he had taken for granted. Once home, he rips his suit jacket in half and explains that “he had been forced out of the building and into the street.” He tells of walking through the streets of the city, trying to call a cab and then an ambulance. No, he hasn’t been fired, he simply says to his wife, “It’s back.”
What’s “back” for our now-named protagonist, Tim, is the compulsion to walk, non-stop, continuously. When the feeling comes over him, he cannot help himself, he just leaves wherever he is and walks until he collapses with exhaustion. He walks right by sidewalk food stands, while salivating for barbecue. He walks past bars, while dying for a beer. He walks away from his job, even in the middle of a trial where he is representing a man on a murder charge.
Tim’s wife, Jane, struggles to deal with her husband’s compulsion, first trying to restrain him in their home, and next giving him a backpack that he would carry with him everywhere in case the urge struck. But how long can a wife go on living with this?
She had nursed him once, and then a second time. About a year and a half of their lives, all told, and by the end of his first recurrence it was a full-time job. He was exonerated of all trifling matters when it returned. They were up against a specter that dwarfed the daily vexings. He could die out there. And so she set to the task of picking him up immediately, of learning how to properly rewarm the skin, of what food to bring with her in the car. She read survivalist manuals and prepared the pack. And when she wasnt picking him up or preparing the pack, she was making the appointments and taking him to the doctor. She was his support staff and counsel.
I love that phrase, “the daily vexings,” an apt phrase to describe marriage. Can Jane last through Tim’s relapses?
Their daughter, Becka, is an overweight teenager, struggling with the various problems of adolescence. She is not tolerant of her father’s condition early on in the book, but she later comes to terms with it and they bond over marathon viewings of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Even though doctors can’t find anything wrong with Tim, he cannot escape his sickness. His family suffers, but they each find their own way. Tim finds his way back and forth across the US, and Joshua Ferris finds beauty in the prose of the mundane.
He slept in the skeletal start of a new house with crossbeams and a cinderblock base. In the night he used the on-site johnny. Plastic sheeting lay in the yard, weathered and pale like a disintegrating shroud. Above him burned a pavilion of stars in a final unfettered night. In the morning he walked through Grand Island into rain.
The Unnamed reminded me at times of Audrey Niffeneger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, in that Tim and Henry each have no control over their maladies. Time travel and endless walking divide their families as they struggle to stay together and understand what is happening to them. The Unnamed has a linear storyline, and does not touch on the supernatural. Instead, Ferris finds his wonder in everyday life. I highly recommend this one.