Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book Review

Ahh...the perks of being a bookseller; Joshua Ferris' second novel, "The Unnamed", will not be published until January of 2010. And yet, I've already had the privilege of reading it. A man who seemingly has it all--partner at prestigious law firm, wife, daughter, big house, money--becomes inflicted with an otherwise unknown ailment: his body begins to walk and walk endlessly at random intervals. The man can be working on a high-profile murder case, and merely get up from his desk, and walk outside for miles and miles until his body collapses from exhaustion. This happens constantly, and it begins to take its toll on those around him. His colleagues no longer believe in him, his wife has to surrender her life to his, and his daughter has to babysit him as if she was the parent and he the child.

I found the story and writing to be simplistic, but its message strong and enduring. The point is that we all imagine our lives working out without any flaws or setbacks, and yet, more often than not we have to deal with obstacles--tremendous in size and scope--that force us to adjust to our situations accordingly, whilst still living our lives. There's only two options when these obstacles come to fruition: deal with them or commit suicide. The second option isn't viable. So what does Tim (the protagonist) have to do? He has to adjust his life accordingly. Unfortunately, this means losing his job, his wife, his health, several of his fingers and toes, and any sort of purpose to life other than walking without end.

I would have appreciated more of a stronger middle and end to the novel, but they say that the "second book" is the most arduous. There was a sub-plot involving a murder suspect that could have been crucial to the underlying story, but nothing ever came out of it in the end. And of the four parts of the novel, the latter one was reminiscent of the myth of Sisyphus; such as Sisyphus was tasked with pushing a rock up a hill ad infinitum (devoid of any other purpose), so it went for Tim and his uncontrollable need to walk.

"One must imagine Sisyphus happy." - Albert Camus, Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942).

1 comment:

  1. *SPOILER ALERT* Hmmmm. I'm not sure that Tim doesn't commit suicide in a figurative sense. Or at least that his choice to abandon his family was actually dealing with the illness. Why didn't he stay...both times. He seemed to think that he was leaving to make everyone's lives better, when I really think he was being more selfish than anything. His departure destroys his family, when he could have stayed and just...gone for walks. It seems that by the end he had the mechanics worked out, why did he have to go? Maybe it became more about the freedom (from family, from work, from obligation and responsibility) and less about the walking. I will say that he sets the book up to end in a way that has to be unsatisfactory for all readers. Either it's happy and you feel cheated, or it's sad and you feel cheated. However you take it, I really liked it. I thought it was just as strong and Then We Came To the End. The idea was so original that I can't help giving him major kudos for it.