penguin viking Rs 499 | pp 313
It’s not often that a debilitative story makes you want to return to the descriptions you rushed through at the first go. Joshua Ferris’ second book The Unnamed is no exception.
The opening lines — “It was the cruellest winter. The winds were rabid off the rivers. Ice came down like poisoned darts…” — set on the book cover showing a man walking into the white-as-snow background (or is he walking into the book?), provide the mood of the tale to come straight from the bookshelf.
The first three pages bereave every movement of progress and make each activity sever its ties from any purpose. By the fourth page, however, things move forward with Tim Farnsworth’s curt, sheepish admission to his wife Jane that his worst fear is coming true again: “It’s back.”
Tim is a Manhattan law executive who is (ill) fated ‘to walk’. His uncontrollable and inexplicable urge to leave everything (and everyone) aside and move, shifts the metaphor of movement without a purpose away from nature to human nature.
It’s the third time in Tim’s life that this “walking thing”, as the security guards at his workplace call it, has returned to bewilder the loving couple. So while a perplexed reader might have to flip some 20 pages to come to terms with the Farnsworths’ lifestyle, it’s already a curse for Jane for more than one reason. Each time Tim walks out, he has to be picked up — or tracked down if he doesn’t call after overcoming exhaustion. Preparatory steps include ensuring that he carries a backpack with a GPS device, body warmers and food all the time. Failed precautionary measures mean taping him to the bed and listening to his screams all night.
The medics have so far failed the Farnsworths, but they are yet to give up on this phenomenon, the tentacles of which have already protruded into his personal and professional lives. A workaholic whose respectable career meets a forced end, a wife who’s desperately seeking anything that takes her away from ‘the responsibilities’ (she finds it in intoxicants), and a daughter whose complex relationship with her parents gets further entangled — they all play their respective parts of victims of that-which-cannot-be-named with due diligence.
The Unnamed is, quite literally, a psychological drama. The latter part of the book deals with Tim’s newfound knowledge on his surroundings that comes when others have run out of patience.
More importantly, it’s about author Ferris coming out of the ‘sort-of-Don DeLillo’ shadow that had enveloped him since his phenomenal 2007 debut Then We Came to the End. With The Unnamed, Ferris finally makes a name for himself as himself.