Monday, November 23, 2009

An Unnamed Thing Cannot Conquer Love--Joshua Ferris' "The Unnamed"

Sometimes you read something so far outside of your normal reading habits, that its almost like a breath of fresh air. I read a lot of books by women and about women, often in the historical fiction category. Rarely do I find myself picking books by men, often because I feel like they lack the emotional element I really love in my books.

In October, I decided to pick up The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris from the Amazon Vine program. I remembered that I had wanted to read Ferris' first book Then We Came to the End but I had never gotten around to it. So I decided to take a leap and try this book. I was so glad that I did, because this book was really different than everything else I've been reading this fall, and may be one of the more interesting books I've read this year.

"The Unnamed" follows Tim, a high powered New York lawyer who has an unnamed disease. Tim's disease causes him to drop everything at a moment's notice and take off on long, meandering walks. Tim's wife, Jane, stays at his side as he has bouts of the disease, even though they last up to a year. Tim has seen every doctor that money can buy, but none of them can offer an explanation for the disease that plagues him. Will Tim and Jane's love be able to overcome the disease, or will it, and the miles it causes Tim to put between them, ultimately lead to their undoing.

"The Unnamed" is a puzzle of a novel that sucks its reader in from the very first page. Tim and Jane appear to be a fairly normal suburban couple, until Tim's disease reveals a whole subtext to their relationship that is complex and unexpected. Ferris uses the disease to explore his character's inner thoughts and emotions, and the disease operates as a stand in for the realities of modern life--long separations and distractions due to work, children, and other relationships--that can tear apart a marriage. I liked how Ferris made the point that Tim's money can't save him, anymore than it can save his relationships. Although Tim, Jane, and their daughter Becka change significantly over the course of the novel, Ferris always brings them back together in a way that makes them human and accessible to the reader.

This novel really made me think, and it is really much more complex than it seems on the surface. I think ultimately this novel could stand as a metaphor for our times. And although overall it is bleak, Ferris leaves his reader with some hope at the end that like Tim, maybe we could find a way to overcome our unnamed.

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