The Unnamed

By Joshua Ferris (Reagan Arthur, $24.99.)

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Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Joshua Ferris's highly anticipated second novel explores a marriage put to the test by a strange illness that causes the husband, Tim Farnsworth, to walk endlessly. Tim's malady follows the trajectory of most psychological diseases—there is no hard-and-fast diagnosis, no explanation for his behavior and no quick fix. His long-suffering wife, Jane, must wait for a phone call and go retrieve him from wherever he ends up, finding him exhausted, dehydrated and sometimes frostbitten.

Joshua Ferris's highly anticipated second novel explores a marriage put to the test by a strange illness that causes the husband, Tim Farnsworth, to walk endlessly. Tim's malady follows the trajectory of most psychological diseases—there is no hard-and-fast diagnosis, no explanation for his behavior and no quick fix. His long-suffering wife, Jane, must wait for a phone call and go retrieve him from wherever he ends up, finding him exhausted, dehydrated and sometimes frostbitten. Their daughter, Becka, watches from the safe haven of her room, distracting herself with indie music and reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To complicate matters, Tim is a successful partner at a law firm, and when his disease strikes, he has no choice but to skip out of work and wander until his body gives out. Needless to say, he loses his cases and, subsequently, his job.

Unlike Ferris's first novel, the 2007 National Book Award finalist And Then We Came to the End, in which beleaguered employees at a '90s-era ad agency shared their stories with one another, The Unnamed hones in on isolation, not group experience. Ferris uses Tim's disease as an analogy for addiction: He doesn't want to hurt his family, but it's inevitable that he does. He abandons them physically and emotionally, and the walking destroys his health.

But Jane sticks by him. The two even manage to sneak in a few passionate moments while he's standing still. In this sense, the novel is an ode to commitment—the strength of a partnership as it is tested by the most unexpected, inexplicable developments. The conceit is a good one, but Ferris's real talent lies in the passages depicting Tim's walks, where his sense of despair comes through in the descriptions of the always-changing landscape. The Unnamed is too uneven to become as provocative as Ferris's debut. But the author has definitely avoided the sophomore slump.—Jessica Ferri

Ferris reads Tue 19 at Barnes & Noble.

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