The Unnamed
  • The Unnamed
  • The Unnamed

The Unnamed

3.4 69
by Joshua Ferris

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He was going to lose the house and everything in it.

The rare pleasure of a bath, the copper pots hanging above the kitchen island, his family-again he would

lose his family. He stood inside the house and took stock. Everything in it had been taken for granted. How had that happened again? He had promised himself not to take anything for

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He was going to lose the house and everything in it.

The rare pleasure of a bath, the copper pots hanging above the kitchen island, his family-again he would

lose his family. He stood inside the house and took stock. Everything in it had been taken for granted. How had that happened again? He had promised himself not to take anything for granted and now he couldn't recall the moment that promise had given way to the everyday.

Tim Farnsworth is a handsome, healthy man, aging with the grace of a matinee idol. His wife Jane still loves him, and for all its quiet trials, their marriage is still stronger than most. Despite long hours at the office, he remains passionate about his work, and his partnership at a prestigious Manhattan law firm means that the work he does is important. And, even as his daughter Becka retreats behind her guitar, her dreadlocks and her puppy fat, he offers her every one of a father's honest lies about her being the most beautiful girl in the world.

He loves his wife, his family, his work, his home. He loves his kitchen. And then one day he stands up and walks out. And keeps walking.

THE UNNAMED is a dazzling novel about a marriage and a family and the unseen forces of nature and desire that seem to threaten them both. It is the heartbreaking story of a life taken for granted and what happens when that life is abruptly and irrevocably taken away.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The attorney Tim Farnsworth seems to have it all—a perfect wife, a loving daughter, rewarding and meaningful work—but the return of a mysterious disorder out of The Red Shoes (at any time of day, Tim is compelled to walk until he passes out with exhaustion) threatens to shatter everything he has built. Ferris delivers an understated reading that is all the more moving for its subtlety. His voice is calm—but it's a controlled calm suggestive of the Farnsworth family's terror and their struggle to assert order over the increasing anarchy. Ferris commands without volume or theatrics and his is a sincere, quiet, and moving performance. The audio features a not-to-be-missed interview with the author, in which he analyzes his writing process and offers his own take on the novel. A Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 16). (Jan.)
Library Journal
Ferris's title refers to an unidentifiable disease that compels protagonist Tim, with no warning, to walk compulsively, no matter the distance or time of day. His disease, which is unpredictable and has affected him for many years, keeps Tim's wife, Jane, and daughter, Becka, in a state of alert and constant anxiety. While much of the novel is about marriage, commitment, and family illness, readers are gradually taken into uncharted territory. It becomes apparent that Tim's disease is a metaphor for man's inherent lust to wander. The motivation for this lust is unclear, but that's what makes the novel interesting as it stimulates readers to formulate their own interpretation. Ferris (Then We Came to the End) is adept at characterization: Jane may be devoted to her ill husband, but she still has her weak moments, which make her character very human. VERDICT Ferris is an intrepid writer—he doesn't provide a solution (there's no cure for Tim)—but he does explore all of the consequences. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/09.]—Victor Or, Surrey P.L. & North Vancouver City Lib., B.C.\
Kirkus Reviews
A successful lawyer finds himself blindsided by a mysterious affliction in Ferris' sophomore effort, an even more ambitious and provocative novel than PEN/Hemingway Award winner Then We Came to the End (2007). Tim Farnsworth's condition has no name (hence the title), and it may disappear for years at a time, but when it returns, Tim feels compelled to walk with no destination, to the point of exhaustion, abandoning all responsibilities of work and family until the disease disappears as mysteriously as it has arrived. With echoes of Samuel Beckett, Tim explains the inexplicable, "You go on and on. Your one note gets repetitive, it's taxing." And some readers might well find this novel taxing in its repetition-as taxing as Tim's wife, Jane, finds dealing with her husband as she also battles first alcoholism and then cancer. As in the author's first novel, office politics play a part here, and there's a deft interweave of the comic and the tragic, but ultimately this dark narrative permits only one ending. With Tim and his doctors trying to determine whether his problem is physical or mental, the book can be read as a parable of addiction or any other condition that refuses to recognize a distinction between mind and body. Or simply as a meditation on the human condition, an evocation of "the ordinary banality of endurance" beneath "the blank expression of eternity." This is Ferris' Something Happened-appropriately enough, since some reviews of Then We Came to the End invoked Catch-22-defying in its very premise "the rigid orthodoxies of cause and effect!" upon which most fiction depends. Audacious, risky and powerfully bleak, with the author's unflinching artistry its saving grace.
Tom LeClair

Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End was one of the most socially intricate and comically astute first novels of recent years. It used an unusual first-person plural point of view to represent individuality-muffling work in a large Chicago ad agency. Only a woman dying of cancer escapes the "we" or, more precisely, has singularity imposed upon her by her illness. Densely populated, fine-grained, and large-hearted, Then We Came to the End won the PEN/Hemingway Award for First Fiction and the Barnes & Noble Discover Award, and was a National Book Award finalist in 2007.

In The Unnamed Ferris places disease at the book's center, where it defines character, controls the narrative, and even dictates this second novel's settings. Tim Farnsworth, a successful Manhattan litigator, finds himself suddenly compelled to walk -- out of his office, out of conversations, away from home. He can't anticipate an onset, can't choose where the walk will take him, stops only when exhausted, sleeps outdoors wherever he stops, and calls his wife to come get him when he wakes. His compulsion makes him an inattentive father to his teenage daughter, Becka; deprives him of his job; eventually separates him from his beloved wife, Jane; causes him to lose toes and fingers to frostbite; and finally consigns him to wandering the American continent.

Although Ferris never names his protagonist's literal dis-ease, his book joins a group of recent "syndrome novels": Richard Powers's The Echo Maker (Capgras syndrome), Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Asperger's), Ian McEwan's EnduringLove (de Clerambault's), and Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn (Tourette's). The danger for fiction from what might be called the Oliver Sacks syndrome (he is alluded to in The Echo Maker and in The Unnamed) is a novel's becoming an exercise in exotic pathology. Powers avoids this by concentrating on the variously motivated characters responding to the Capgras sufferer. Ferris courts the danger and ups the ante by intensely focusing on his walker, a choice that ultimately transforms pathology into a gouging existential metaphor. As Faulkner said, life is motion. The need for movement pervades many American novels, including Updike's Rabbit Run and DeLillo's Running Dog, but Ferris's compulsive pedestrian pushes beyond these runners' urges to a primal truth.

Move or die.

Before recognizing this grim choice at novel's end, readers will find plenty of sunnier fictional pleasures. Tim's work at the law firm yields amusing anecdotes about other obsessive attorneys who manage to keep or improve their positions. Becka, who suffers from an eating disorder, changes from a resentful teenage caretaker of her father to an independent spirit and then to a sympathetic, if brief, caretaker. Living with Tim drives his wife to drive (to chain restaurants in Connecticut) and to drink, but Jane reclaims herself and attempts to regain Tim as he roams farther and farther away. Ferris also inserts a murder mystery that Tim might have solved had he not been in the throes of his syndrome.

But the novel is fundamentally and increasingly about Tim. Trained in linguistic precision, legal precedent, and observable causality, he assumed at the first onset that some doctor -- even if it's only "the One Guy" -- would be able to name and explain, if not cure, his condition. Tim's worldwide search for that "One Guy" lightens flashbacks with cameos by several obviously crank healers. In the novel's present -- twelve years after the initial onset, eight years after a relapse during which Tim was handcuffed to his bed for 27 months, and four years after Tim and Jane fled their suburban home -- Tim decides to leave his wife (for her own good), let his walks take him where they will, and war against himself alone.

Ferris records arguments between mind, which Tim clings to as self, and body, which Tim assumes is causing the compulsion because, rational materialist that he is, he discounts psychological causation. Physically weakened by his random walk across America, Tim desperately enlists God's help to turn self into soul and gain an edge over body. Enforced hospitalizations and antipsychotic drugs help restore his rationality -- but also the body that just keeps walking. Tim refuses to accept that some aspect of the mind is inviolate to legal analysis or that the body's brain may be commanding his legs. This obduracy is his heroism but also his hubris and leads to the "lesson" of syndrome novels: that the body/brain interface -- what the neuroscientists call "embodiment" -- is more enigmatic than lawyers can imagine and even scientists explain. Or to quote Emily Dickinson, whose "After Great Pain" supplies titles for the novel's four parts, "the brain is wider than the sky."

Ferris's brain falters a bit in the last third of the novel, when Tim gets as far west as Portland. Settings are fleetingly registered through Tim's consciousness, which is mostly busy with its mind/body combat. Although the resulting fragmentation is appropriate, it's also repetitive and opaque. Perhaps to reward the reader for accompanying a disintegrating consciousness and disfigured body across a mostly disheartening landscape, Ferris allows Tim to briefly overcome his compulsion for a rather unlikely and therefore sentimental family reunion near the novel's end.

Once the pathological mainspring of The Unnamed is accepted, it's a consistently realistic book. It can even be read as a moving account of homelessness (though Tim always has plenty of money). But the novel is also a textual syndrome, the place (from the Greek) where other fictions "run together." Ferris's numerous descriptions of nature as a "freak menace" and the plot's determinism hark back to the naturalists, to novels such as Norris's McTeague and Dreiser's Sister Carrie, which incorporated the skull and brain science of their time. Since Ferris took the title of his first novel from DeLillo's Americana, The Unnamed can't help but recall DeLillo's The Names, in which a name-searching wanderer ends as Tim does. But the most important precursor is Beckett's The Unnameable, which Ferris has identified as one of his favorite novels. Beckett's self-splintering protagonist can't move. Ferris's schizoid character can't stop. Beckett's narrator says, "I can't go on, I'll go on." Tim's mind says to his body, "You go on and on." The Unnamed stops, but its story of a kinked mind and its intersections with other fictions go on and on in the reader's mind.

Then We Came to the End explored with great vigor the horizontal "x" axis of social, cultural, and economic relationships. The Unnamed obsessively tunnels down the "y" axis of self to arrive at another meaning of "x" the unknown. Taken together, the novels demonstrate a wide-ranging and deep-plunging new talent at work. --Tom LeClair

Ain't It Cool News
"It's something to behold, this book...a breathtaking debut."
"There isn't a moment when Ferris the reader loses one's attention to what Ferris the writer has to say."
"Rich and profound."
"Unfold[s] in a hushed, shadowed dimension located somewhere between myth and a David Mamet play."
The New Yorker
"An unnerving portrait of a man stripped of civilization's defenses. Ferris's prose is brash, extravagant, and, near the end, chillingly beautiful."
Very Short List
"Astonishing and compelling."
The Los Angeles Times
"Ferris puts his notable wit and observational ability aside in favor of a far more psychological (and ultimately physical) examination of the self. . . . an accomplished and daring work by a writer just now realizing what he is capable of creating."
The New York Times
"[Ferris is] a brilliant and funny observer."
O Magazine
"Ferris shows a talent for the grotesque in his riveting descriptions of Tim's decline. He also includes his specialty - scenes of juicy office intrigue. But what's most engrossing in his portrait of a couple locked in an extreme version of a familiar conflict - the desire to stay together versus an inexplicable yearning to walk away."
The Washington Post
"You can't break away from the grip of these opening chapters . . . Ferris usually writes in a steady, cool voice whether delivering the quotidian details of office work or existential observations about God that would otherwise sound grandiose. The effect is a terrifying portrayal of intermittent mental illness, the way the fear of relapse becomes a kind of specter, mocking each recovery and shredding any hope of a cure."
The Boston Globe
"Strange and beguiling . . . With this brave and masterful novel, Ferris has proven himself a writer of the first order. The Unnamed poses a question that could not be more relevant to the America of 2010: Will the compulsions of our bodies defeat the contents of our souls?"
The Wall Street Journal
"Where Then We Came to the End mined the minutiae of cubicle life for humor and pathos, this one goes straight for the heart (and the jugular), telling the story of a married father struggling with an inexplicable disease, and the lengths to which he'll go to maintain control of his life."
The San Francisco Chronicle
"At once riveting, horrifying and deeply sad, The Unnamed, like Tim's feet, moves with a propulsion all its own. This is fiction with the force of an avalanche, snowballing unstoppable until it finally comes to rest-when we come to the end, so to speak."
The Chicago Sun-Times
"There is beauty in Ferris' writing, even when charged with despair."
The Economist
"Mr. Ferris is wise enough not to teach a lesson. Rather, he has teased ordinary circumstances into something extraordinary, which is exactly what we want our fiction writers to do."
Christian Science Monitor
"The Unnamed is ambitious, intelligent, and even more complex than Ferris's debut novel, Then We Came to the End."
The Miami Herald
"Bracingly original . . . Surprisingly, almost tenderly, and despite his unrelenting refusal to churn out a predictable happy ending, [Ferris] turns The Unnamed into a most unorthodox love story about commitment and sacrifice."
St. Petersburg Times
"Ferris' distinctive writing style is serious but whimsical, philosophical with a touch of the absurd."
"Arresting, ground-shifting, beautiful and tragic. This is the book a new generation of writers will answer to. No one in America writes like this."
starred review Booklist
"Ferris imbues his story with a sense of foreboding, both for the physical world, in the grip of record-breaking temperatures, and for the vulnerable nuclear family and its slow unraveling. With its devastating metaphoric take on the yearning for connection and the struggles of commitment, Ferris brilliantly channels the suburban angst of Yates and Cheever for the new millennium."
From the Publisher
"It's something to behold, this book...a breathtaking debut."—Ain't It Cool News"

Ferris delivers an understated reading that is all the more moving for its subtlety...The audio features a not-to-be-missed interview with the author."—Publishers Weekly"

There isn't a moment when Ferris the reader loses one's attention to what Ferris the writer has to say."—AudioFile

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Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
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5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Unnamed

By Ferris, Joshua

Reagan Arthur / Back Bay Books

Copyright © 2010 Ferris, Joshua
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316034005



It was the cruelest winter. The winds were rabid off the rivers. Ice came down like poisoned darts. Four blizzards in January alone, and the snowbanks froze into gray barricades as grim and impenetrable as anything in war. Tombstones were buried across the cemetery fields and cars parked curbside were swallowed undigested. The long-term debate about changing weather was put aside for immediate concern for the elderly and the shut-ins, while the children went weeks without school. Deliveries came to a halt and the warehouses clogged up on days the planes were approved to land. There were lines at the grocery store, short tempers, a grudging toward the burden of adjustment. Some clever public services addressed the civic concerns—heat shelters, volunteer home checks. The cold was mother of invention, a vengeful mother whose lessons were delivered at the end of a lash.

The ride home was slow going because of the snow and the traffic. He usually worked by eyelet light but this evening he brought no work home and sat in one quadrant of the car without file opened or pen in hand. They were waiting for him. They didn’t know they were waiting for him. The driver had on 1010 WINS, traffic and transit on the ones. Somewhere, out to sea or in the South, it might not be snowing. Here it slanted into the windshield like white ash from a starburst. The frostbite had returned to his fingers and toes. He unbuckled the seat belt and leaned over, stretching his long torso across the backseat, and what the driver thought he didn’t care. The sound of the radio faded as one ear was sealed up by the distressed leather and he put a hand on the floor mat and ran his tingling fingertips over the fiber-trapped pebbles. He hadn’t called to tell them. He had lost his phone. They were waiting for him, but they didn’t know it.

The driver woke him when they reached the house.

He was going to lose the house and everything in it. The rare pleasure of a bath, the copper pots hanging above the kitchen island, his family—again he would lose his family. He stood just inside the door and took stock. Everything in it had been taken for granted. How had that happened again? He had promised himself not to take anything for granted and now he couldn’t recall the moment that promise had given way to the everyday. It was not likely one single moment. He set his keys on the table below the mirror and uncharacteristically took his shoes off on the long Persian runner, which he and Jane had bought in Turkey. They had spent a week in Turkey and a week in Egypt. They always had a trip in the works. Their next trip was a Kenyan safari but it would have to be postponed now. He walked through the house in his socks. Inside the kitchen he ran his hand along the dimly lit countertop. He loved his kitchen, the antique cupboard doors, the Moroccan tile backsplash. He walked through the dining room, where they hosted dinner parties for his firm. The long table sat twelve. He reached the stairs and put his hand on the oak newel and took one step after another. Family photographs made the ascent with him. The sound of the grandfather clock ticking away in the living room gave way to the television laughter issuing softly from the bedroom down the hall.

Jane was still beautiful. She was wearing a pair of reading glasses that had a Pop Art zaniness of character, teardrop frames polka-dotted with drops of primary color. Spaghetti straps revealed her slender arms and the nightgown held her firm breasts in place just below a freckled slate and an articulated clavicle. She was doing the crossword. Whenever she got stuck, she glanced up at the late show on the flat screen mounted to the wall and drummed the pen between upper and lower teeth, as if to waken her brain. She looked at him as he entered, surprised to see him home so early. “Hello, banana,” she said. He took off his suit coat as if it were a T-shirt, thrusting the back over his head and turning his sleeves inside out. Then he found himself grabbing the hem, a hand on each half of the parted tail, and ripping the thing in two. Hard to break the seam at first, but once the first thread snapped, it went. Jane opened her mouth but nothing came out. He dropped the tattered coat and climbed onto the bed and hunkered down on his hands and knees like a man waiting for an explosion. “What is it?” she said. “Tim, what is it?” His head was lost inside his sheltering arms. “Tim?” She moved over to him and put her arms around him, hugging him from above as if they were about to engage in a wrestling match. “Tim?”

He told her that he had been forced out of the building and into the street. At 43rd and Broadway he hailed a cab, which he hoped would take him back to the office. After getting the cab to pull over, he reached out and opened the back door. But then he walked on. The driver, a Sikh in a pink turban, honked the horn, staring at him through the rearview mirror. Why would someone hail a cab and open the door only to keep walking? Near Union Square he had tried to call an ambulance, a recourse they had envisioned during his last recurrence. He was on the line with a dispatcher trying to explain the situation when he slipped on a patch of ice coming off a curb and lost his grip. “My phone!” he cried out as he regained his balance. “Somebody! My phone!” He walked on with a tweaked back. “Please get my phone!” Everyone ignored him. His BlackBerry had landed in the middle of the street where it lay defenseless against oncoming cars. He kept moving forward. He told her of all the city scaffolding he walked under, the manic traffic he managed to avoid, the parade of oblivious people he passed. He told her that he had turned tired in the old way by the time he reached a bench, somewhere near the East River, where his body gave out. How he had crumpled up his suit coat for a pillow and taken off his tie, sweating despite the cold. How he woke up in horror an hour later.

“It’s back,” he said.


Excerpted from The Unnamed by Ferris, Joshua Copyright © 2010 by Ferris, Joshua. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Unnamed 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 68 reviews.
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Rosebolo More than 1 year ago
I found it disjointed, odd (not in a good way), and pointless. I really wasn't sure what we were suppose to get out of it or the character relationships. Very strange indeed.
Camboron More than 1 year ago
Right out of the gate, the writing style of this book was a little off-putting. There were some really bizarre and jarring metaphors, that had no connection to anything else written. There are also eyebrow-scrunching passages like-- --"What do you feel when you see a black albino?" he asked. "Sorrow," she said. He stared through the windshield. "Me, too."-- Even in context, re-reading the scene before it to make any sense of it, I couldn't. I read a lot of bizarre stuff, and this was still a head-scratcher. As the book progressed, I started to figure out why the tone was how it was, but it still didn't seem justified. There seemed to be a disconnect between the characters and the narrator. Usually they are in sync. If not, then there is a reason, like humor, or maybe satire, as in Tom Perrotta's "Little Children". Here, it was just too discombobulating. Although, reading, i.e., Murakami, just because things are mysterious, bizarre, enigmatic, etc. still doesn't mean you don't go along for the journey. Maybe what the book was lacking at the start was an underlying purpose. I almost stopped reading. What Joshua Ferris did get right as the book progressed was the pacing of a thrilling read, and, the frustration and relentless vacillation between hope and despair when a family has to deal with unknown illness. In fact, the book became excellent as I read on. However, despite some of the bizarreness of Tim's life, he still worked and lived in "reality", and it's hard for anyone to except that he wouldn't have suffered consequences for some of his actions. So, bad beginning, and exponential improvement as it went on, but, I don't want to wait until I'm around fifty pages into the book before it starts to get good. Why couldn't the beginning of the book be brought up to the same quality as the rest of it? By what I've heard of Joshua Ferris' debut, "Then We Came to the End", I wish I would have read that first, and then bought this book. Now, I'm not so sure I want to read the other. I hope someone buys the book for me, so I can read it without paying for it. Oh yeah, I can just get a library card.
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SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
In a cruelly cold winter, a man makes his way home to his wife and sadly declares "It's back." So begins Joshua Ferris's The Unnamed, and soon the reader knows of lawyer Tim Farnsworth's unnamed affliction-a body that simply has to walk. It's back, and Tim tries to hide his illness, struggling to juggle work and family with unexpected absence and the danger of walking too long, too unready in the cold. His wife rushes out to save him. His daughter's beginning to believe all parents are absent. And his bosses and doctors refuse to believe in what can't be understood. .rather like society refusing to believe in freak winters, wild-fire spring, dead birds and nature gone wild. The Unnamed is full of metaphors and questions and love. For a while I saw Tim as a metaphor for a broken misunderstood world. Love redeems him, even though he's changed. Body argues with soul, and neither wins. And I'm left wondering what I've learned, or if I should read it again. But I'm left knowing I've read a really fascinating book, that works on so many levels my brain needs a rest. I can't wait for our book group to discuss it! Disclosure: A member of our book group recommended this book.
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