- Publisher: Reagan Arthur / Back Bay Books; Reprint edition
- Language: English
- ASIN: B006Z30OO8
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 170 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,903,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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That said, there are a few themes you can find amongst the collected works:
1. Identity. In "Then We Came to the End," the group identity of a typical workplace actually narrates the novel. In "To Rise Again...," the narrator explores his own identity at length only after it was stolen. In "The Unnamed," our protagonist fights an internal war for control of his identity - mind vs. body, intellect vs. carnality.
2. Isolation. An interlude in "Then We Came..." left the group narration to explore the desparate isolation of a cancer patient facing her uncertain fate. "To Rise Again" has its protagonist continually looking in from the outside, forever searching for the inclusion that eludes him. In "The Unnamed," our protagonists Tim and Jane find themselves forced into isolation in spite of, and sometimes because of, their everlasting devotion to each other.
Ferris weaves a tale of desperation and determination. I can honestly say I've never wished for a protagonist's death as much as I did throughout this book - as a mercy. His torments were almost unbearable to share.
Some reviews here bemoan the lack of a catch-all conclusion, but it's consistent with the theme of the book. Take the opportunities to benefit from the insights and experiences presented to you, and make your own peace.
What would you do if you were the spouse—stay together? Rescue that person, take midnight phone calls, spend endless amounts of money on an ever-growing list of specialists?
What would you do if you were the one with the condition—try everything, beyond hope? Will yourself to battle it on your own? Leave to set your spouse free?
These are the questions The Unnamed presents to the reader—questions that take the more familiar scenario of a loved one with a terminal illness, and pushes it to the very extreme of moral obligations and human decency—yet set within the quotidian confines of contemporary American life. It’s a fascinating and sobering premise, which Ferriss unfolds with a gripping and convincing narrative.
The Unnamed would be worth reading for its premise and pacing alone, but what seals the deal is the deliciously inventive description along the way. A homeless man’s sneakers have “gone brandless with grime.” A streetside kebab wrap “hot as ore in his hand.” A “cluster of exiled smokers” hovers around the entrance to a building. We imagine the “dismal fluorescent brutality” of a chain restaurant, the “national color of insomnia and transience.” It's what you ask of all great writing: giving you new eyes for old things.
Imagine that you are married to a man who suffers from this walking compulsion. At any time of day or night, he might disappear from your home. Frantic, you drive your car searching for him. Sometimes you find him sleeping in a pile of snow, half-frozen, miles from your suburban home. Other times you have to wait until you receive a phone call telling you where he is. You love him ... you really do. But this walking compulsion is difficult to understand. What is making him do this? Why can't the doctors figure it out? Is this a mental illness? Is he faking it? Sometimes the stress of living with the uncertainty of his affliction is too much to handle. But then the compulsion disappears. Life gets back to normal. Until one day, "it" starts again.
This is the life of Tim and Jane Farnsworth. As the book opens, the walking has started again for the third time after stopping for a few years. As readers, we're plunged right into the thick of it--with Tim and Jane struggling to keep it together and maintain the life they've built since the last time "it" happened. Alternating between Tim and Jane's perspectives, the book explores how Tim's walking affects their lives, their marriage, and the life of their only daughter--who is just now beginning to fully understand what her father and mother have gone through.
I started this book early one evening, was quickly sucked in, and finished it in one night. I felt as compelled to read it as Tim was compelled to walk. The details on how Tim and Jane try to manage his walking were fascinating and horrible. And the choices that each makes to try and keep Tim's compulsion from destroying their lives were simultaneously tragic and heroic. My heart broke when Tim decided to try and spare Jane the continued horror of his affliction, and it broke again when he struggled to return to her in a time of need.
When I began reading, I was reminded of Stephen King's story, The Long Walk, which is wildly different but involves forced walking. (In the story, teenage boys are forced to walk until they are the last one standing or risk being shot to death.) When reading King's story, I was fascinated with the idea of being forced to walk far beyond what your body could take or endure. I rekindled that fascination when reading about Tim's walking. Ferris does a wonderful job of making the walking "come alive." At times, I felt like I was out there with Tim...tramping by empty fields or down the sides of abandoned highways. The logistics of how Tim and Jane try to cope with the walking interested me too. It was impossible for me not to imagine myself in Tim's place. What would I do if this happened to me? Interestingly, I never really imagined myself as Jane. In many ways, being Jane seemed like the more horrifying position to be in, which I think says something about me but I'm not sure what.
This felt like such an original book. When trying to figure out what "genre" to put it in, I was flummoxed. Is this is a thriller? In a way-- but it doesn't really capture the depth and "literariness" of the book. I finally decided it was a Personal Dystopia. In most dystopian books, we see an entire world that is negative or horrifying. In this book, only Tim and Jane experience the dystopia. Their world is ripped apart in a way that no one else can fully comprehend or define. At one point, Tim wishes he suffered from something that was "named" and "known"--like cancer--something you could explain to someone and they could understand or sympathize with.
I loved this book. It was dark and bleak and haunting and compelling. If you're looking for something different to read and what I've described sounds intriguing, give this book a try. I imagine you'll find it as haunting and compelling as I did. (Just a word of caution: Don't start it if you don't have time to finish it any time soon. If you're like me, you won't be able to stop reading. It really was "unputdownable.")