Friday, March 19, 2010

Unnamed, by Joshua Ferris

I remember not wanting to come to the end of Ferris' first book, "And Then We Came to the End". Using the unusual first-person plural as his narrator's voice he chronicled the ins and outs of a group of people who worked together in an office, and with humor and honesty, chronicled how they projected their "issues" onto the objects and people in their work lives.

So how does an author follow up on a first book with such an original, wry voice? Unnamed did not disappoint. I knew nothing about the plot when I began listening to the audiobook, and I so was riveted I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. That element of complete surprise brought a delicious suspense. (By the way, I highly recommend the audio version, narrated by Ferris and concluded with an author interview.) So, be forewarned. I'm going to include a brief synopsis in the next paragraph. If you're one of those people who has a tiny issue with control (as opposed to my not-so-tiny control issues) and reads the last few pages of a new book first because you can't stand the suspense, then by all means, read on. On the other hand, if you would rather enter the book clueless (which is generally how I face the world) then skip over the next paragraph and resume reading at the asterisk.

Tim Farnsworth is a successful attorney, married, with daughter. His life is great except for one little thing. He has this, um, condition. Is it psychological or physical in its etiology? No one knows, and Tim has consulted with the best. This condition comes on out of the blue, and when it strikes, causes him to walk. He walks way past the point of exhaustion, to places far away, finally collapsing into a deep sleep. Upon awakening he calls his wife to help get him home. Despite tests and treatments, conventional and alternative, nothing helps. As Ferris delves into the story we get to see how this condition effects Tim's marriage, daughter and work. As the unnamed condition takes its toll, Tim eventually loses his mind, either as a direct result of his illness or because of how it has affected his life. We see him disheveled and homeless. Ferris perfectly captured how every "invisible" homeless person has a "before-story", a life that preceded the time they lost everything.

* Okay. It's safe to read! As in his first novel, Ferris captures the nuances of his characters and the how the relationships play out brilliantly. A minor complaint: The only parts of this book that didn't work for me were a few of the side branches of the story. Some of these built in suspense, but ended up going in unexpected directions and for the most part fizzled out. Maybe there was something artistically Ferris was doing that eluded me. Still, whatever the author's intent, the book was worth those few minor question marks. I think you'll love Unnamed.

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