Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

Loved it, hated it, loved it, hated it, hated it, hated it.

“It’s back,” says the main character, Tim, referring to his mysterious, sporadically reoccurring illness (real or psychological – we never find out), that causes him to walk out of anything and everything, and walk until he drops from exhaustion, suffering frostbite, malnutrition and other physical disasters.  Tim’s a high-powered attorney, wealthy, healthy and smart, until all of a sudden he’s not. Due to his “walking thing” which no amount of Dr.’s worldwide can diagnose or cure, he looses his position in the firm and an important case, which causes one of his clients to eventually kill himself. His illness all but kills his wife. And I found that I wanted to kill him myself about halfway through the book just to be done with it all.  It’s sort of hard to explain, understand, or swallow, but honestly I think it’s more like a metaphor, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Tim’s wife is a beautiful and very successful real estate agent who, due to Tim’s illness, eventually has to quit her profession, turns into an alcoholic, and nearly dies several times from breast cancer. But I found myself not caring – and in fact wishing she would just go ahead and die rather than continue to live the bottomless, soul-sucking life of caring about her husband Tim, who just seems to float through disaster after disaster, reflecting on his toes and fingers falling off from frostbite, and the banality of his life melting into a puddle of nothing, seeming to care more about the important murder case he is losing than his wife’s life, which has turned into a horror show, i.e., she buys a bed with restraints to keep Tim from wandering off into oblivion, then spends each day dressing the sores on his body caused by the restraints. Yuck!

Tim’s daughter, really seems to be the only one in the story with a head on her shoulders, saying in response to her father’s very belated apology for ruining everyone’s lives and for not being there for her because of his illness, “You were never there even when you weren’t sick,” or something to that effect, which brings me back to the metaphor. I think that whether the author meant it or not, his “walking” illness is just a metaphor for whatever it is that keeps families from staying connected spiritually or physically – work, substance abuse, self-loathing, whatever, same effect. You don’t have to walk away to be away.

I have to say that Joshua Ferris is a very compelling writer, which is how I got all the way through the book. There were many times when I didn’t give a hoot about where the story was going or what was happening to the one-dimensional characters. But I kept reading because of the writing. The boy can weave words.

Otherwise, I got so tired of Tim ruining people’s lives, that I found myself cheering on his possible death.  Alas, Tim just couldn’t seem to stop making everyone miserable, and just couldn’t seem to die. I can’t tell you how many times in the book I though, “Damn, I thought for sure this was it!”

Obviously there were many things about this book that I hated, but one thing in particular that had me screaming to no one, and pacing, was a scene in which Tim’s wife, seemingly hours from death, ask him to have sex with her “one last time.”  I mean she was literally a corpse, connected to intravenous tubes, and Tim, although he has just gotten out the hospital himself, on deaths door for the umpteenth time, manages to get it up and give Jane an orgasm! And guess what? It cures her! She goes into remission.  The author must have an ego the size of, well, I can’t imagine what it would be the size of. But really! OK and get this! I can’t find another review of this book anywhere that even mentions this ridiculous scene. Am I the only person who thinks this is a stupid scenario?

Thanks to the clever guy on, Doc Occula "I Can Has Cheezburger?" (Los Angeles, California), who did the below review/outline of the book, which I think is hilarious, and a pretty good way to end, other than repeating, loved it, hated it, loved it, hated it, hated it.

1.   Huh, this is kind of weird; maybe I'm supposed to figure out what's wrong with the protagonist, which is some kind of annoying disease.
2.   Okay, I take back the 'annoying', because now I'm sympathetic to him, his family, and his plight.
3.   This book is amazing.
4.   Hang on, now he's lost his mind, even though nothing different seems to have happened. Or maybe it did and I wasn't paying attention because I was enjoying the turns of phrase and beautiful images.
5.   Not so amazing anymore. People are starting to do stuff that I think I'm supposed to empathize with, but instead I'm getting annoyed again. And I think there's a murder mystery in here somewhere too that I forgot about.
6.   I still don't know what's wrong with the protagonist but instead of not caring because it's an artistic choice, I just don't care anymore.
7.   Now I feel a little like I'm reading a John Hersey book about a guy going on a pilgrimage. But not a good John Hersey book. Maybe I mean a Jon Krakauer book. But not a good Jon Krakauer book. Whatever.

Read, don’t read, don’t care….


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