The Unnamed opens with the Farnsworths, a middle-aged couple living in an affluent NY suburb, as they face another bout of "it" "It" is a mysterious illness that has beset Tim, a successful attorney and father to teenaged Rbebceca. Tim is compelled to walk for extended periouds of time for no apparent reason. He walks for days and days without rest and without heed to the elements; he is often found by the police or his family in the next state and collapsed in a parking lot or wooded area. He struggles as he tries to hide the disorder and its effects (mising fingertips from frostbite, long, unexaplined absences) from his co-workers and maintains a measured calm at the office.
Despite his best effors, Tim's career, marriage, relationship with his daughter and his physical well being are all threatened by this mysterious illness that comes in bouts without warning. As with any other chronic, debilitating illness, the entire family is impacted as they cope with the fear of what may come next and try to protect Tim from himself when "it" reappears.
It's More Than Just the Walking . . .
I first found myself fascinated by the medical mystery and as I listened I tried to guess the obscure abnoramility that could be causing Tim to walk without end. I waited for more to be revealed that would offer the significant clue to what ailed either Tim's mind or body which compelled him to walk until exhaustion. However, I soon realized that the walking was really secondary to what the ailment revealed about Tim's relationships with those closest to him - especially his wife, Jane, and daughter, Becca. As the family grapples with Tim's bouts, issues between the family members began to reveal themselves. Becca, an overweight and troubled teen, resents the time her father spent working throughout her childood and clearly feels that his parenting has left something lacking within her. Tim is forced to confront this when he is housebound (chained to bed in fact) in an attempt to prevent him from walking during one of his episodes. Becca remains home to watch him and the two share some touching scenes over a couple of seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It is clear this is the first time Tim has really spent time to get to know his daughter and his recognition that he has somehow failed Becca is powerful. It is a realization many parents likely face at some point even though the circumstances that force the realization are very different from Tim's.
As Jane and Tim cope with his illness, their marriage and its weaknesses are explored. They face many of the challenges faced by some middle-aged couples including infidelity, a battle with alcholism and resentments that have accrued over the years. Again, Tim's illness created unusual circustances by which these issues are revealed and also serves to amplify them. But I couldn't help thinking that Tim and Jane's struggles are likely similar to many couples married for almost 20 years - the emotions and frustrations they face in their marriage are ones to which many can relate.
The writing is exacting and poetic at times and I often found myself thinking about a turn of phrase written by Ferris. The author reads the book himself - he does not use a lot of inflection and seems "flat" at time but somehow it works for this book - he does speak with an urgency in certain passages which I found fitting for the urgency with which Tim is propelled during his bouts. I also enjoyed the author's reading of the novel because I felt I was hearing it exactly as he intended as opposed to an actor's/narrator's interpretation; for this book, I appreciated that.
As Tim was compelled to walk, I was compelled to continue to listen and the audio kept me captivated until the end. I will definitely go back and read Then We Came to the End: A Novel - I like Ferris's style and his use of language. If you enjoy complex family dramas with keen observations about life, marriage and middle age, you will enjoy this one!