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The Unnamed Hardcover – January 18, 2010

176 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2010: It's back. With those words Tim and Jane Farnsworth reenter a nightmare they know so intimately it needs no other description. "It" may not be found among an insurance company's diagnostic codes, but the Farnsworths, a couple made wealthy by Tim's single-mindedly successful legal practice, know it too well: Tim's compulsion, at any random moment of the day or night, to set out walking for hours at a time until he collapses in exhaustion. They've survived two bouts of this inexplicable illness, which began as mysteriously as they ended, and now, as Joshua Ferris's second novel, The Unnamed, opens, they are beset by a third. Ferris's first book, Then We Came to the End, was one of the freshest, most acclaimed fiction debuts of the decade, but he's followed it not with an imitation or extension but with something thrillingly different. Like Tim possessed in one of his perambulatory vectors, Ferris follows his character's condition as far as it leads him, far beyond where logic and loyalty usually take our lives, but always treats it with empathy, grace, and imagination. His language is as exact and poetic as his premise is fantastic, and by the story's end you feel the title refers not only to his hero's strange and solitary disease but also to those elemental but equally inexplicable forces that bind us together through the most difficult turns of our fated lives. --Tom Nissley

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In Ferris's remarkable second novel (after Then We Came to the End), a life of privilege comes to ruin as a result of a strange and mysterious illness. Attorney Tim Farnsworth thought he had recovered from a disorder that compels him to walk to the point of exhaustion. But now his walking disease has returned and shows no sign of going into remission. His wife, Jane, supportive beyond measure, does everything she can to keep Tim safe during his walks, including making routine midnight trips to pick him up. As the disorder takes increasing control over their lives, however, the sacrifices they make for each other drive them further apart. Ferris manages to inject a bizarre whimsy into a devastatingly sad story, with each of Tim's outings revealing a new aspect of his marriage. The novel's circular aspects, with would-be happy endings spiraling back into chaos and then descending further, integrate Ferris's themes of family, sickness, and the uncertain division between body and mind into a vastly satisfying and original book. (Jan.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books; 1 edition (January 18, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780316034012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316034012
  • ASIN: 0316034010
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (176 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #321,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Joshua Ferris's first novel, "Then We Came to the End," won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Barnes and Noble Discover Award, and was a National Book Award finalist. It has been translated into 24 languages. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Best New American Voices, New Stories from the South, Prairie Schooner, and The Iowa Review. He lives in New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

135 of 148 people found the following review helpful By Wanda B. Red VINE VOICE on November 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It seems clear that Joshua Ferris has a great talent as a writer; after reading this provocative and haunting novel, I am going to order his first book ("Then We Came to the End") and look forward to following his career in the future.

In "The Unnamed," Ferris describes an illness that compels his protagonist (Tim Farnsworth, a wealthy and successful lawyer) to drop whatever he is doing at a specific moment and then walk to the point of desperate exhaustion. Not surprisingly this idiopathic condition (medical professionals remain unable to diagnose or effectively treat it) wreaks havoc on his family life, and ultimately reduces his existence to a war between two parts of his identity -- one of which represents the demands of his body, the other of which stands in for his mind or soul struggling for mastery over those demands. At times, it becomes unclear which voice has the upper hand, which represents "health" or the real Tim, which is even speaking. As the illness recurs, he wanders the countryside of many states and regions of the country, suffering frostbite that disfigures his hands and feet even as his inner self is increasingly disfigured by his madness. One reviewer here calls it a parable; I agree.

I would like to challenge, however, a couple of the observations repeatedly made by reviewers here. First, I didn't find the plot to be so strikingly original. I'm not saying that Ferris isn't the first to think of it in this specific form. But it's a rather simple narrative starting point: What would happen if I gave my hero a compulsion simply to walk out of his life? Taken to its extreme, where might such a compulsion bring him?
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105 of 126 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The conceit of this book is whether a marriage can sustain an "unnamed" frightening illness that consumes the husband and literally removes him at intervals from his wife and daughter. Tim Farnsworth, a successful, accomplished attorney, has an affliction that intermittently overtakes him. He walks and walks and walks interminably, with no regard to inclement weather or safety hazards. It may be hours, days, or even weeks before he calls his wife, Jane, from a remote location to "pick me up." In the meantime, Jane and their daughter, Becka, live in constant fear when he disappears. Tim has been to every specialty MD and research scientist imaginable around the globe in order to diagnose and treat this illness. However, it remains a mystery. As his illness protracts, it strains the family's coping mechanisms, challenges the binding love, and threatens to unravel them.

This could have been a spellbinding book. Tim's enigmatic illness is an inventive metaphor for any mighty stressor that can bewilder and impale a marriage. Ferris also uses it to explore the differentiation between mind and body and examine the breaking point of the human spirit. He brings alcoholism into the narrative, which is a clever analogy to the walking illness, as it raises many of the same questions, i.e., is it controllable? Can you conquer it with will--mind over body? Or does the body overtake the mind? These issues were implicit in the novel, but meagerly addressed.

Too much narrative is spent on the grinding details of each walking episode and the frustrated search for a cure. Even the family interventions become repetitive after so many attempts. I was slogging through tedious, overwritten, and bloated iterations that descended into melodrama.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Joshua Ferris's second novel is a good one striving to be great. Posing the question of what might happen to a comfortable, complacent man stricken with a bizarre and inexplicable condition, it never quite runs to ground any central theme, leaving instead a story that has moments of unaffected poignancy, but in the end drifts off with the wispiness of smoke.

Forty years ago, Tim Farnsworth would have been a character in a Louis Auchincloss novel. A respected litigation partner in a large midtown Manhattan firm, he is immersed in preparing the defense of a client who controls $20 million of corporate business and now faces conviction for the murder of his wife. In the midst of what should be intense trial preparation, Tim is stricken by a mysterious ailment that recurs in four-year cycles and compels him to walk to the point of exhaustion (his early treks evoke Neddy Merrill's frantic journey across Westchester County in John Cheever's "The Swimmer"). "Not an occult possession but a hijacking of some obscure order of the body," as his wife Jane thinks of it, "the frightened soul inside the runaway train of mindless matter, peering out from the conductor's car in horror." When he awakens in the early morning hours in a potato chip truck or curled up next to a Safeway dumpster, Jane, herself a successful real estate broker, leaves their comfortable suburban home to rescue him.

Adorned with every totem of success, Tim's outwardly perfect world quickly unravels. His partners (sketched with dark humor and the insight of a marine biologist assaying the occupants of the shark tank) no longer can tolerate his abrupt departures and remove him from the trial team and eventually the firm.
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