THE UNNAMED by Joshua Ferris
Kirkus Star


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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.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-316-03401-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2009


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