Customer Reviews


170 Reviews
5 star:
 (41)
4 star:
 (57)
3 star:
 (25)
2 star:
 (27)
1 star:
 (20)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


134 of 147 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and terrifying
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...
Published on November 1, 2009 by Wanda B. Red

versus
105 of 126 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A superb premise that becomes repetitious
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...
Published on October 26, 2009 by "switterbug" Betsey Va...


‹ Previous | 1 217 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

134 of 147 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and terrifying, November 1, 2009
This review is from: The Unnamed (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? This is a question that, as we see in the book, ultimately strips away the incidentals of life and leaves us with basic issues of love and identity. By the way, there are plenty of works of literature that work similarly, ranging from Shakespeare's "King Lear," to Jean-Paul Sartre's "Nausea," to Anne Tyler's "Ladder of Years." Create a narrative premise that takes away all the superficial things in life that seem to matter; see what's left.

Second, what that leaves us with -- as readers who become involved in Tim's mental combat -- is the sheer power of Ferris's prose to evoke that inner reality. Unlike some other readers here, I found that prose to be wonderful. No writer should try on this kind of minimalist narrative structure unless he wants to test his ability to create a language that is luminous, transparent, richly evocative both of desperate interior states and of the state of nature. Ferris meets this challenge. His prose is simple, amazing, and beautiful: "He would tell her anything, of course. Yes, of course he would tell her that he loved her and that the soul was vibrant and real and death only an interlude. His banana, how she had taken care of him. She had come to him in far-flung places no matter the time of day or night." I was moved and mesmerized by the writing.

This book demands that the reader give herself over to it as completely as the husband (and wife and daughter) who are at its center surrender themselves to life's whirlwind. It's not an easy book to read, although it is a page-turner. It's an unrepeatable and bravura literary performance.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


105 of 126 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A superb premise that becomes repetitious, October 26, 2009
This review is from: The Unnamed (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. And Ferris' use of stream-of-consciousness to illustrate Tim's intervals of incoherence was laced with awkward parody. The third person and very detached point of view was precarious to begin with; it eventually declined into one despairing note. Additionally, he threw in some red herrings and manipulated the reader around some close curves that abruptly or insincerely dissolved.

There was so much potential here. I recognize the brilliant symbolism and the harrowing forces that encumber this family. Ferris is an adroit writer, in that he pens masterful metaphors and riveting ideas. But the narrative pounded like a sledgehammer of Tim's misadventures and devolved into a mere sketch of the family. He should have trimmed these episodes and concentrated on penetrating Becka and Jane; instead, he reverts to informational prose, telegraphing what happens and reporting on how Becka and Jane feel. The sequence of events is communicated through dry and hurried exposition as the climax approaches. It does not sustain, even if his purpose was to heighten the poignancy of Tim's absenteeism from his family. We are swallowed in Tim's illness without the balance of inner dialogue and animated experiences of Jane and Becka (which was present at the beginning of the novel but shifted into the illusory). We dryly observed rather than experienced. The climax was colorless and lost luster in the shadows of stream-of-consciousness. The story became sludgy and stultifying.

I appreciate that Ferris experiments with different styles of writing and isn't stuck on one approach. I thoroughly enjoyed his first novel, Then We Came to the End, which was a socio-comic send-up of an ad agency in its final days. But The Unnamed was undisciplined and self-conscious. I encountered authorial autism and self-indulgence and I checked out emotionally way before I came to the end of this novel. This was a heartbreaking family, but the narrative style was unbearably numbing and prevented my surrender to the story. The execution undermined its purpose and thwarted its brittle beauty.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars THE UNNAMED fails to fulfill its bright promise, January 25, 2010
By 
Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Unnamed (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. In desperation, Jane handcuffs him to a hospital bed in their home, and details their daughter Becka, an overweight and disgruntled teenager who aspires to a career as a folksinger, to sit by her father's bedside watching endless hours of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" DVDs. "If he just had an expiration date," Jane reflects of her decision to leave Tim in Becka's care, "of course she'd sit with him." Dr. Bagdassarian, the physician Tim "disliked the least of all his doctors," admonishes Jane, "Try your best that he doesn't forget what it means to be human."

Tim's futile search for a cure to what one doctor describes, with unhelpful literalism, as "benign idiopathic perambulation" culminates when he shaves his head and dons a device that looks like a bicycle helmet designed to measure his brain waves. Bereft of hope, he eventually abandons what once was his well-ordered life to embark, in a "brain fog," on a pedestrian ramble from New Jersey to the West Coast.

After its increasingly grim account of the physical and emotional toll of Tim's westward journey, there's an undeniable power, even eloquence, to the concluding 50 or so pages of the novel, retracing his return trip in the face of Odyssean obstacles across America (the focus more on its varied, storm-blasted and sun-streaked landscape than its people) to reunite with Jane: "The path itself was one of peaks and valleys, hot and cold in equal measure, rock, sedge and rush, the coil of barbed wire around a fence post, the wind boom of passing semis, the scantness and the drift." Their intense devotion, especially Jane's desperation (expressed in a moving scene in a roadside diner when Tim offers her both love and freedom with a chilling "I don't want you"), reveals the tensile strength of the bonds that hold couples together in long-term relationships.

THE UNNAMED fails to fulfill its bright promise, not from some complacency that might be understandable in an author fresh from the enormous success of his first novel, but instead owing mainly to the lack of clarity in articulating a compelling vision. Choosing to dangle a multiplicity of explanations for Tim's plight --- from the hollowness of success in contemporary America, to the limitations of medical science, to the mind-body dichotomy, to the challenge of religious belief --- Ferris ultimately abandons the reader to the same uncertain fate. Like Tim, we long for "some measure of understanding, some small answer that might stand in for the clarification of all the mysteries in the world." Perhaps that murkiness was a conscious choice, and while it may inspire many animated book club discussions, it feels less an act of courage on the author's part than a failure of will. Obscurity, even in the name of art, is no virtue.

--- Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg (mwn52@aol.com)
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Story About Life, January 19, 2010
By 
Amazon Customer (Irving, Texas, United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Unnamed (Hardcover)
In "Unnamed," author Joshua Ferris, author of "Then We Came to the End," creates a mysterious illness that affects Tim Farnsworth, a successful and prestigious attorney, causing him to cease whatever activity he is involved in and to begin walking. He walks until he finally drops from exhaustion and falls asleep no matter where he is at the time. He walks without regard to the weather or hazards to his personal safety. He is "missing in action" from his family for days or even weeks before his family hears from him. This mysterious illness obviously creates stress not only in his personal life, tearing apart his family, but jeopardizes his professional life as well.

Tim seeks medical assistance from the leading medical professionals around the work, but they are unable to diagnose or treat his illness, further causing conflict in his life.

Ferris does a great job showing the reader not only how devastating the illness is to Farnsworth, but how it emotionally wrecks Jane, his wife, and 17 year old daughter, Becka. The book is not only harrowing, but consuming as Tim and his family are taken to the breaking point by this illness. Can the family survive Tim's illness, and if so, how long?

Ferris does a wonderful job creating well developed characters you will care about and root for. His mastery of dialogue is equally superb. "Unnamed" is a book about life and how we cope with life. It will cause you to think about it for a long time and examine your own life. The book will change your life; you will never forget the story.

I read this book based upon Ferris' previous book, "Then We Came to the End," which I thoroughly enjoyed. This book was even better, if that is possible, and did not disappoint.

I give this book 5 stars and highly recommend it, even if you never read Ferris' previous book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Another book I REALLY wanted to like, but ultimately..., November 19, 2009
This review is from: The Unnamed (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I ended up feeling duped by this work. I knew nothing of Joshua Ferris, although his first novel was certainly applauded by critics. Maybe I need to stop giving a hoot about what's written on the back of a book; I think it influences my opinions too greatly. Ferris is clearly an elegant wordsmith, and many times I found myself nodding in delight over a turn of phrase or a beautiful image. But the overall problem with the plot soon overshadowed his skill with syntax. Here's the flow chart of how I understood this book:

1. Huh, this is kind of weird, maybe I'm supposed to figure out what's wrong with the protagonist, which is some kind of annoying disease.
2. Okay, I take back the 'annoying', because now I'm sympathetic to him, his family, and his plight.
3. This book is amazing.
4. Hang on, now he's lost his mind, even though nothing different seems to have happened. Or maybe it did and I wasn't paying attention because I was enjoying the turns of phrase and beautiful images.
5. Not so amazing anymore. People are starting to do stuff that I think I'm supposed to empathize with, but instead I'm getting annoyed again. And I think there's a murder mystery in here somewhere too that I forgot about.
6. I still don't know what's wrong with the protagonist but instead of not caring because it's an artistic choice, I just don't care anymore.
7. Now I feel a little like I'm reading a John Hersey book about a guy going on a pilgrimage. But not a good John Hersey book. Maybe I mean a Jon Krakauer book. But not a good Jon Krakauer book. Whatever.

Good writing does not a good story make. I really wanted to enjoy this book the whole way through, but I stopped about halfway in. I think I could have put the book down and taken away an appreciation of style and character that didn't need the entire second half of the work to complete; I would have completed it myself.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrifying story, beautifully told. It sticks with you for days., January 29, 2010
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Unnamed (Hardcover)
I'll start this recommendation with a recommendation: The fewer reviews of this book you read, the better. I wish I hadn't even read the basic premise, because as much as I loved this book, I wonder how must more engaging it would have been to start it knowing nothing. So if you're reading these reviews because you're on the fence, my advice is to either take the gamble and order it right away, or check it out at your local library. It's a small risk, and if you respond to the book the way I did, a big pay-off.

It's hard not to resort to cliches. But this was, indeed, one of those books I couldn't put down. It was (here's another one) a page-turner. The story does, as some reviewers have pointed out, get repetitious, but it's a purposeful repetition. It adds another layer to sharing the perspective of the protagonist. I, for one, never felt that the repetition made the book boring, but instead, more of an empathy-sharing experience.

So, to follow my own advice, I won't go into the plot. I'll just note that, as far as I'm concerned, this is a phenomenal literary work. One of my favorites of the past decade.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing, January 21, 2010
This review is from: The Unnamed (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I haven't read THEN WE CAME TO THE END, but people whose opinions I trust praised it, so I thought I'd give THE UNNAMED, Ferris's sophomore effort, a try. I was thoroughly disappointed. The characters, for the most part, are flat and vaguely drawn, heavy on stereotypes (of the successful man and his talented, attractive wife with a drinking problem, of the brooding teenager, of the jerky lawyer). Their world is given the barest of sketches, which also rely on stereotypes, stock images of upper-middle-class suburbia and testosterone-filled law firms. Maybe Ferris wants to turn Tim Farnsworth into a sort of everyman, his unnamed malady some type of metaphor for the things that disrupt our lives, adversely influence our careers, come between us and our spouses and children, isolate us even from ourselves. Who knows? But the characters and setting were so vague, so flat, so ultimately unrelatable that any deeper meaning lost its force.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully weird. Enlightening and exhausting, March 28, 2011
This review is from: The Unnamed (Paperback)
Joshua Ferris' provocative and powerful novel is the tale of Tim Farnsworth, afflicted with an unnamed and undiagnosable disorder. The affliction of compulsive walking at first seems to be a mere metaphor for a stereotypical power-attorney who needs to unburden and simplify his life. The too-large house, the disaffected teenage daughter and the "partnership" marriage are all cliches, that once divested will assure a return to normalcy, right? Wrong. The beauty of the novel is just how deep the author is willing to explore what it means to be at once afflicted and incapable of returning to our accustomed routine and the comfortably familiar. As the Unnamed takes root the walking not merely exhausts but debilitates--descriptions of Tim's battered, exhausted, frost-bitten and infection wracked body are quite horrific. All the more chilling because there is no treatment plan, no alternative medicines, no hope. Indeed, hope withers like Farnsworth's rotting extremites.

Ironically, out of these ashes, something is salvaged. A relationship with the estranged daughter is finally established, albeit a frustrating and incomplete approximation of normalcy. Marriage problems are overcome, but only at a terrific cost and enormous suffering. And there are moments of surprising humor--an essential ingredient in a book as relentless as this. As Farnsworth swings between peaks and valleys one keeps hoping for some respite for this family. Ferris though is no sentimentalist--characters are allowed insight and some understanding, but The Unnamed preempts happily ever after as an ending.

There are echoes of Edward Albee (The Goat and Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolf came to mind) and Kafka's Metamorphosis. Not light reading, but absolutely compelling. I finished this three hundred page book, exhausted, enlightened and grateful. Grateful for a reasonably healthy existence and grateful there weren't 50 more pages to go.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shouldn't have liked it BUT DID!, December 26, 2010
By 
Penney (Massachusetts) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Unnamed (Paperback)
It's not my kind of book. I like redemptive, spiritually uplifting fiction. This is unrelentingly harrowing and depressing, seemingly Godless. YET. Yet it goes on my short list of most memorable reads. (The only other book I can think of that had this paradoxical effect on me is Cormac McCarthy's The Road.) The Unnamed is a profoundly empathetic, compassionate book. And, in its way, grateful and affirming. There's the family that loves the afflicted protagonist, despite everything--the family that learns to not let judgment get in the way of love. And there's the protagonist who finds a way to keep going, who finds a way to love back, who finds a way to acknowledge glimpses of beauty in a nightmare world. Can art change life? All I know is that I will never look at a homeless person the same way ever again.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strange, Very Strange, Very Very Strange, November 15, 2010
This review is from: The Unnamed (Paperback)
Joshua Ferris' sophomore novel "The Unnamed" is a very odd duck. I went into "The Unnamed" with mixed expectations. I adored "Then We Came to the End" (and the story it came from, "More Abandon"), but I was also bored by his New Yorker stories after that book's release.

I came out of "The Unnamed" with mixed feelings. Here's the plot: A prestigious lawyer in mid-life cannot stop walking. He has an involuntary, habitual drive to walk and continue walking, and when he starts, he can't stop until he passes out from exhaustion. His wife rescues him from wherever he ends up and brings him home. No doctor can figure out why he walks. It's a bizarre plot, but one I didn't have trouble with.

The trouble I had was that the book's metaphors become so cloudy they lose all focus. First, his walking is a symbol of his commitment to his wife: He walks away and hides in his work when he should be giving more time to his family (Joshua Ferris does hate work), while his wife hangs on to him in a state of dependence, enabling him with her compassion, not knowing what else to do, feeling new strains on old commitment. Then the book shifts, and the walking becomes a sort of personal global warming, with the lead character falling apart as a result of the dying world he's attempting to reconcile himself with (one of the book's finest touches is the offhanded references to all the effects of global warming and approaching armageddon, in all its dead bees and strange weather). But then this is abandoned too, and it's briefly a study of psychosis as a result of solipsistic tendencies before becoming (fourth metaphor!) a strange debate on the battle of the mind versus the body, which I suppose translates to man's place in nature, whether to be caretaker or conqueror.

Anyway, whew! Who knows! The ending is not a good ending, and doesn't attempt to answer any of these questions. Since the book is also something of a crescendo of closed loops (the basic plot is repeated many, many times), I hoped something clearer would have emerged. But: no.

It's a shame because Ferris is one of the strongest and most promising young American writers now. Let me say the writing in the book is great, extremely singular and unique, oftentimes very funny, intriguing, and extremely readable (I finished the book in two days). It just looks like here his ambition got the best of him, and he ended up with a bit more than he could manage.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 217 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

The Unnamed
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris (Hardcover - January 18, 2010)
Used & New from: $0.01
Add to wishlist See buying options
Search these reviews only
Rate and Discover Movies
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.