Summary and book reviews of The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

The Unnamed

A Novel

By Joshua Ferris

The Unnamed
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    Readers' Opinion:

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  • Hardcover: Jan 2010,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2010,
    336 pages.

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Book Summary

During their 20-year marriage, Tim and Jane Farnsworth have savored the fruits of his labor as a high-powered lawyer: they live in a beautiful home, they travel on exotic vacations, they don’t worry about money. Tim has battled a bizarre, inexplicable illness, but those episodes, while not exactly forgotten, have passed. Then it comes back, causing him to behave in a frighteningly new way, driving him out of his life and into a world and a self that he can’t recognize and Jane is helpless to control. How far will he go to fight his body’s incomprehensible desires, and what will they both risk to find the way back to the people they love?

A heartbreaking story of family and marriage, a meditation on the unseen forces of nature and desire, The Unnamed is a deeply felt, luminous novel about modern life, ancient yearnings, and the power of human connection.



THE FEET, MECHANICAL
1

It was the cruelest winter. The winds were rabid off the rivers. Ice came down like poisoned darts. Four blizzards in January alone, and the snowbanks froze into gray barricades as grim and impenetrable as anything in war. Tombstones were buried across the cemetery fields and cars parked curbside were swallowed undigested. The long-term debate about changing weather was put aside for immediate concern for the elderly and the shut-ins, while the children went weeks without school. Deliveries came to a halt and the warehouses clogged up on days the planes were approved to land. There were lines at the grocery store, short tempers, a grudging toward the burden of adjustment. Some clever public services addressed the civic concerns—heat shelters, volunteer home checks. The cold was mother of invention, a vengeful mother whose lessons were delivered at the end of a lash.

The ride home was slow going because of the snow and the traffic. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Questions and Topics for Discussion for The Unnamed, by Joshua Ferris

  1. Discuss the novel's opening paragraph. Why is it important that this story begins in the winter? What mood do the opening sentences create?
  2. How would you describe the state of Tim and Jane's marriage, based solely on what you learn of them in the novel's first two chapters?
  3. Discuss the importance of setting in the novel. How has living in an upscale suburb of New York shaped the Farnsworth family?
  4. Describe the differences between Becka's relationship with her mother and with her father. How does the progression of Tim's illness change Becka?
  5. How does Tim's work as an attorney shape his sense of himself as a husband, a father, and an individual? What...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

At times, reading The Unnamed feels a bit like accompanying Tim on one of his involuntary walks - aimless, increasingly desperate, without an end in sight. In that way, the narrative style and structure perfectly echoes the novel's theme. Readers who, like Jane at times, are searching for answers to Tim's condition, may grow impatient with Tim's seemingly endless peregrinations. Most readers, however, will be drawn into Ferris's poetic, empathetic accounts of Tim's journeys and returns, and they will willingly join the author on his journey of exploration into one man's mysterious, heartbreaking decline... The Unnamed is both a surprising departure from the satirical social commentary of Ferris's debut and a second novel that - in its more personal focus and introspection - surpasses its predecessor.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

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Media Reviews
Globe and Mail (Canada)

Ferris delves into the fundamentals of what it means to be a human being in this world with all the attendant complications of career, love, parenthood and, ultimately, selfhood. The novel is a flawed experiment, but a worthwhile one.

Telegraph (UK)

[T]he audacity and dexterity on show make up for any flaws. The Unnamed can be tough to read because of the skill Ferris brings to his evocation of suffering, particularly in its final pitiless chapters, but it is clearly an important and individual work, a stage in the development of a significant talent.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ferris's themes of family, sickness, and the uncertain division between body and mind into a vastly satisfying and original book.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Audacious, risky and powerfully bleak, with the author's unflinching artistry its saving grace.

Library Journal

Ferris is an intrepid writer—he doesn't provide a solution (there's no cure for Tim)—but he does explore all of the consequences. Highly recommended.

USA Today

... resembles less a sophomore slump than a cliff dive. It may brim with artistic courage and ambition, but almost nothing about this humorless book works

New York Times - Janet Maslin

[A]s Mr. Ferris writes about Tim, somehow conveying Tim’s self-pity through his third person narrative voice, he gives The Unnamed a writerly preciousness that is as tangible as Tim’s problem is vague... [this novel] is a literal Ferris wheel for the reader, since it brings Tim through ups and downs so cyclical they make the book seem to be going nowhere.

Dallas Morning News

Even the grimmest novel can reward the reader with insights into human nature or through the sheer beauty of its writing. In the end, that's the problem with The Unnamed. Balanced against the difficulties, the payoff comes up short.

New York Times - Jay McInerney

Remember when Paul McCartney went classical with "Liverpool Oratorio"? Me neither. As a fan of Then We Came to the End I can admire Ferris’s earnest attempt to reinvent himself, but I can’t wait for him to return to the kind of thing at which he excels.

Wall Street Journal

Alternately moving and redundant and unrelentingly sad, the story frustrates our expectations: What exactly is it -- a medical thriller, a domestic drama, a murder mystery, a survivalist tale, a metaphysical fable? ...At one point or another, Ferris starts down each of these paths with great promise, but as the novel wanders around, none of these elements comes to very satisfactory fruition.

Shelf Awareness

A beautiful, sad and strikingly original story of an ordinary man with an extraordinary affliction from the wildly talented author of Then We Came to the End.

Amazon Best Books of the Month

His language is as exact and poetic as his premise is fantastic

Los Angeles Times

The Unnamed is an accomplished and daring work by a writer just now realizing what he is capable of creating. Where Then We Came to the End chewed and gnawed at corporate life, The Unnamed lays bare the fabric of families, the lengths people will go for the ones they love and the lack of value we place on the simple ability to pause, to stop and to reconsider all the steps we've made.

San Francisco Chronicle

[A]n accomplished and daring work by a writer just now realizing what he is capable of creating... The Unnamed lays bare the fabric of families, the lengths people will go for the ones they love and the lack of value we place on the simple ability to pause, to stop and to reconsider all the steps we've made.

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Beyond the Book

Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder
Although Tim Farnsworth's condition never receives an official diagnosis in The Unnamed, his relentless walking might seem to belong to the category of obsessive/compulsive disorders.

Obsessions are defined as recurrent, unavoidable thoughts, and compulsions are categorized as repetitive behaviors. Obsessive/compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder, since not performing the compulsive behavior can result in increasing anxieties, and often patients perform the compulsive behavior specifically to try - successfully or not - to ward off anxiety.

For many people suffering from compulsive behaviors, the disorder takes the form of one or more "rituals" or routines that must be performed in ...

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