Joshua Ferris: The Unnamed

The Unnamed is a portrait of a man brutally ravaged by mental illness. He suffers from a very extreme obsessive compulsive disorder: he finds himself compelled to go out walking, for hours on end, no matter the weather, until he becomes so exhausted that he cannot stay awake any longer. When he wakes up, behind a dumpster or wherever, he calls his wife, she retrieves him, and they return, warily, to normal life, and wait for the next incident. The book is told almost entirely through his perspective and much of it revolves around his poignant struggle to understand the mind-body dichotomy, to reclaim his body that insists on this crazy walking against his will. At times he is completely psychotic. He loses fingers and toes to frostbite. He cannot work. His relationship with his wife and daughter is damaged beyond repair. And despite a vast battery of medical and psychological tests, no doctor is ever able to come up with a name for what ails him, let alone a cure.

Yep, that is The Unnamed. It’s very, very well done. Well crafted, well written. Not a single word out of place. If you like unreliable narrators and intense explorations of mental illness, this is definitely the book for you.

It’s not really my thing though. I prefer rollicking yarns and prose poetry; sweeping sagas with reliable third person omniscient narrators that take you out of yourself and into another world. I read The Unnamed because my book group picked it for this month. I’m glad I read it. It certainly made me think. I never would have read it otherwise. It’s good to push the envelope, right?