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The Unnamed

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris: A Novel (Back Bay Books, $15.00, 320 pages)

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The heart asks pleasure first, and then excuse from pain.   Emily Dickinson

God, if He was anything, was the answer to the mystery of why you got sick…   Joshua Ferris

Joshua Ferris (Then We Came to the End) has written a second novel.  The Unnamed, is a dark and mystical tale that brings the pain before it delivers the pleasure.   This is about Tim Farnsworth who is blessed with status and a fine career.   Good luck and good fate lead him to take two things for granted: his health and his family.

Tim’s a successful lawyer in a private New York City firm until he’s hit with a mysterious condition that causes him to walk.   When the condition strikes, he’s forced to abandon whatever he’s doing and walk for miles and hours until he drops and falls asleep from exhaustion.   The condition – which the medical establishment does not want to label a disease (Tim being the only person on record affected by it) – goes into remission twice enabling Tim to resume his work.   But Tim’s already lost 17 months to this condition when, as the story opens, “it’s back.”

Initially, Tim places his faith in medicine, doctors and mental health practitioners until he comes to see that “there was never anything anyone could do” for him.   He’s first affected physically, then mentally and becomes “removed from the person who knew how to form ideas.”   He becomes a man without hope, which to him seems worse than death.   Tim comes to envy cancer patients who have the “power of a familiar and fatal disease.”

It’s not difficult to see that this is pretty dark and dangerous territory for a novel but Ferris is skilled enough to turn the ship around.   A tale of illness and disease is transformed into one about marriage and family and the strength – physical and emotional – that these can provide.   Tim loses everything – career, family, wife, daughter – before he becomes stronger (in a strange sense) than the world around him.   His suffering has a pay-off and he sees and experiences hope before the end of his days.

This is a story about redemption.   Tim literally walks away from everything, including spouse Jane, until he has to decide whether to return to her – no matter what the cost.   Eventually, Jane and others come to be amazed that he “could suffer like that.”   In the end Tim, like every one of us, comes to experience joy in life’s small things: seeing children play, observing birds, having a couple of beers with an old friend, feeling the love of a daughter.

Ferris’ work is close to breathtaking here, although the second half of the work feels much longer than the first half.   Maybe that’s because the reader is meant to experience Tim’s disease states – pain, fever, disorientation, hallucinations – before he returns to normalcy.   We wonder if he’s gone insane in his battle with “The Other” – a condition, a disease, a devil, a fear, his mortality – until he accepts that it’s his inalienable right to have a life, a normal life.

She didn’t need a prescription, she needed a life.

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Taut, engaging, emotional…   Tinged in genius and yet troubling.   The Unnamed is a stunner and one of the few novels most readers will come across in which each and every chapter closes brilliantly.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Reagan Arthur Books (Hachette Book Group, U.S.A.).  

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An Audio Book Giveaway!

First, congratulations go out to Cheryl Kelley of Gilberts, Illinois and Margie Takala of Minnetonka, Minnesota as the winners of Life and Life Only, a fine novel by Dave Moyer!   Munchy the cat picked their names out of the official contest bucket.   Life is about life, especially as it relates to baseball, love and Bob Dylan.  

Now we would like to announce another great giveaway.   This time we’re giving away three (3) copies of the audio book version of The Unnamed by Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award-winning author, Joshua Ferris.   This is an unabridged version of the novel, read by the author, on 7 CDs.   This Hachette Audio book has a value of $34.98.

This was an Amazon Best Books of the Month selection on its release.   I’ve started to listen to it and it’s terrific.   Anyone who has ever had a health condition that the medical establishment does not quite seem to “get” will relate to this story.   It is the tale of a man attacked by an unknown condition that makes him walk until he literally drops and sleeps from exhaustion.   He’s lost 17 months of his life due to this condition – skeptically called “The Condition” by his mental health professionals – and he’s now experiencing the third occurrence.   Maybe, he’s told, this condition is just brought on by stress or worrying.   Right.

That’s my take and here is part of the official synopsis from the publisher:

With The Unnamed, Ferris imagines the collision between one man’s free will and the forces of nature that are bigger than any of us.  

Tim Farnsworth walks.   He walks out of meetings and out of bed.   He walks in sweltering heat and numbing cold.   He will walk without stopping until he falls asleep, wherever he is.   This curious affliction has baffled medical experts around the globe – and come perilously close to ruining what should be a happy life.   Tim has a loving family, a successful law career and a beautiful suburban home, all of which he maintains spectacularly well until his feet start moving again.

This is a novel about Tim Farnsworth, a man who believes that he’s going to lose his house and everything in it.   How can you win a copy of the audio book?   It’s simple.   Just send an e-mail with your name included in the message to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   That’s all you need to do to be entered once.   For a second entry, tell me why you would like to win this particular audio novel.   You have until midnight PST on Wednesday, March 17, 2010 to submit your entry(s).  

Anyone in the U.S. or Canada is eligible.   The only restriction is that you must supply a residential address if you’re selected as a winner.   Audio books cannot and will not be mailed to a P.O. Box.   Thanks to Anna at Hachette Audio for making these prizes available to our readers.

Good luck and good listening!  

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