Friday, October 21, 2011

Destination Unknown

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris is the story of a man with a disease of sorts, that requires him to walk for hours on end, without the ability to stop walking.  He has met with endless doctors, and they are all unable to determine if this "disease" is a true physical ailment, or if it is a mental disorder.  Have I lost your interest yet?  I thought so.  My interest was also lost at that point, which explains why I delayed reading The Unnamed  for so long.

However, I had read Ferris' earlier book, Then We Came to the End, and I really liked it.  That story is almost like a literary version of the television show "The Office", with the strange glitch that it is all written in first person plural ("We all went out to eat."), so that we don't know whose story it is until the end.  My sister blogged about that book here, which is where I first heard about it, even though it was apparently hyped in hipper circles than my own.

I was interested in The Unnamed when it first came out, but based on the blurbs and reviews that I read, I just couldn't bring myself to add it to my TBR list.  I wound up listening to it on CD, which I loved.  As I mentioned earlier, Ferris reads the book himself, and reads it perfectly.  This is the best audio book that I have ever listened to, in that the author seems as committed to getting the audio book right as he was to the original novel.  Certain conversations are recorded so that one participant is heard through the right speaker, and the other participant through the left.  At the end of the CD, there is an interview with Ferris, which made me love the story even more.   Listening to The Unnamed was the first time that a story caused me to cry while driving.

So what makes The Unnamed worth reading?  Ferris' character development. Tim, the person suffering from the walking disease, is at first a high powered, hard working litigation attorney.  He and his wife, Jane, find ways to cope with the disease, while hiding it from his partners and clients.  At a certain point, however, Tim stops trying to fit the disease into his life, and decides instead to live his life to fit the disease.  Tim and Jane, and even their daughter, Becca, progress, regress and digress, while coping with Tim's prolonged absences.  Ferris shows the changes in Tim in a way that is believable, and yet still catches the reader off guard.

This was an incredibly moving book, but it was not at all sappy.  Once again, Ferris has done something that no one else is doing, and he has done it incredibly well.  He created a disease, but not a cure.  He created a family, but he didn't fix it.  While I enjoyed both Then We Came to the End and The Unnamed, I'm not sure that I'll be adding either to my list of favorite books.  However, Ferris has secured a place as one of my favorite novelists, and I can't wait to see what he does next.

Next Up on CD:  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Still Reading:  Exhaust the Limits by Charles Dambach

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