Joshua Ferris’ last novel “Then We Came to the End”, was a clever and irreverent look at the failures and foibles of office life in an advertising agency. It was an enjoyable read, if a touch too-close-for-comfort for those who have toiled in that kind of environment.
“The Unnamed” is a far cry from that light and tongue-in-cheek style, but certainly no less worth the read. The title refers to the malady suffered by the main character, Tim, who is periodically compelled to begin and continue walking for miles until nearly passing out from exertion. He is struck, uncontrollably, at any time and in any place and, despite periods of latency lasting for years, this malady always returns.
Ferris’ novel is a brilliant look at the way an illness can exert itself on all members of a family, not to mention how it affects the personality, outlook and basic psychology of the sufferer. Tim’s wife stands by him, until she can’t stand it anymore and seeks solace in addiction. Tim’s daughter, though, is a stranger to him only until he becomes sicker than ever. The unnamed, untraceable and uncurable disease affects them all and leaves them all in fear of the next recurrence.
Despite the heavy subject matter, Ferris’ writing is still surprisingly accessible and enjoyable. The story itself is compelling and Ferris’ writing facilitates its unfolding with a style that is deft enough to support the plot while here and there taking center stage with an ingenious turn of phrase that reminds the reader how good it has been all along.