Joshua Ferris

The unnamed medical condition in Joshua Ferris’ novel The Unnamed (Reagan Arthur, $24.99) reads like a case study from Oliver Sacks. A successful lawyer, married with one teen daughter, goes on compulsive walking binges that he can’t predict or control. They’re like epileptic seizures that leave him lost and disoriented, miles from home or office, sleeping in the snow with frostbitten feet. Specialists are consulted, tests are ordered, and he even asks his wife to shackle him to the bed. Nothing works and—in the novel’s barest outline—his life is destroyed. Other writers have dealt with the known and common catastrophes of midlife (cancer, alcoholism, infidelity, the loss of faith, etc.), which Ferris forgoes in favor of something utterly symbolic. Is the attorney’s malady a manifestation of self-disgust, disdain for his accidental career, or the entire American haute-suburban way of life? Is it faked or schizophrenia? Ferris isn’t saying. And though his second novel (after And Then We Came to the End) is quite well-written, some readers will be dismayed as it progresses—like the compulsive perambulation—into a sprawling catalog of horror. There is no cause or consolation to The Unnamed, which is ultimately like accompanying Job on a death march, without Yaweh to praise or blame. BRIAN MILLER

Sat., Feb. 6, 2 p.m., 2010

 
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