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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

THE UNNAMED - Joshua Ferris

Started it Monday morning and had to read until I finished it Tuesday evening. What a page turner. Which is hard to imagine since there is no murder and no mystery. It is a heart wrenching tale of a wealthy couple whose lives are devastated by the husband's strange and unnamed illness. With all their money and influence it is still impossible to find a doctor that can identify or treat his obsession to walk out of and away from his life and continue to walk to the point of total exhaustion. It comes on with no warning and he simply MUST just walk away from whatever he is doing and wherever he is at the time. He will walk no matter what the elements and will walk until his body gives out and he collapses.

Tim Farnsworth is a very successful lawyer in NYC and has survived two terrible bouts of the illness as the novel begins. He and his family have been, up to this point, able to adapt, hide it, and fix things but now it is back and is so aggressive that he begins to lose everything. And I do mean lose in the literal term. Since he cannot stop walking he is subjected to harsh weather causing frostbite and tissue death. For much of the novel the family copes and Tim's wife Jane is able to rescue him each time. But as the illness progresses he walks farther away and can no longer do his job. Eventually it gets so bad and he becomes so irrational that she can no longer figure out where he is. Then begins the long years of trying to find him and make sure he has not died. After years of endless walking Tim starts to become psychotic and his personality begins to split.

The love story between Tim and Jane is heart-wrenching. They try so hard to keep their life together, save each other, and to not damage their daughter. I found it interesting and inventive. Years ago I was interested in another author, Anne Tyler who also liked to create quirky characters with bizarre mental illnesses or personality disorders. I read so many I forget all the titles but I do remember they all took place in Baltimore. Saint Maybe was good and I also liked The Accidental Tourist, Breathing Lessons, and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.

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