Joshua Ferris' The Unnamed isn't exactly a cheery book. It's practically a polar opposite from Ferris' first novel, a literary version of the movie Office Space titled Then We Came To The End — a National Book Award finalist that had readers rolling.
The Unnamed, however, will have no one rolling in the aisles. Essentially, the novel explores the limits of "in sickness and in health" in a marriage. Tim is a successful New York lawyer who has an unexplained, "unnamed" condition whereby his body forces him to stop whatever he's doing and just walk...walk until he gets tired, curls up and falls asleep. Then, he calls his wife Jane to come pick him up at the gas station or side-of-the-road rest stop or beauty salon (in one memorable case) where he's collapsed.
The condition goes in and out of remission, and the resulting hope-despair cycle wreaks absolute havoc on Tim and Jane's marriage. Jane turns to the bottle to cope and escape, proving she's just as vulnerable as he is. Their marriage is a perfect example of co-dependence — until conditions spin out of control. The book was solid, but certainly not great, and not as good as Then We Came To The End. Even so, it's clearly the product of an immensely talented writer with a brilliant imagination.
Speaking of the writer: You may remember from a recent post that I got to meet Joshua Ferris at a reading and signing last week. Ferris read for about 30 minutes — his voice (I'm fascinated by novelists' voices, for some reason) is a clipped, brisk, medium-soft baritone, exactly the type of voice you'd expect from the trendily-but-casually dressed, pleasantly-dishevel-'doed intellectual hipster.
He took only a few questions, during which he revealed he wrote the ending of the novel on his Blackberry while on a shopping trip to Home Depot with his father.
Then we got in line to have him sign our books. I tend to get a bit star-struck when meeting talented novelists, and had been trying the whole time he was reading to think of something smart to say when it was my turn. Not to be. He did this thing where he'd trace his pen, and then sign inside the tracing, and so all I could come up with is "Is there a story behind the pen-tracing?" Smooth one, Greg. He kind of smirked and said "I'm sure there is, but I've been doing it so long I can't remember why I started."
As you can see from the photo, even famous, incredibly smart novelists sometimes commit the common foible of forgetting what year it is! Stars...they really are just like us. ;)
(One final note: You still have a week to enter my giveaway for Zadie Smith's essay collection, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays. Go here to read about the details. )