Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. - a painful yet gratifying read.

"No matter what happens, I will keep running/moving on/walking along..." a familiar refrain heard a number of times that shows a resolve to not be overwhelmed by life's challenges. In case of the protagonist Tim in Joshua Ferris's The Unnamed, to keep walking is not a choice. He cannot stop walking and neither can he control when, where and for how long he walks. This strange affliction predictably creates havoc in his personal and professional life. this book is the story of this unnatural life and its challenges.
            It would be easy enough to stop here when reviewing this book and it would describe fairly well what the book is about. But it would not be fair. This book is exquisitely painful to read, in how it forces the reader to think and draw parallels to their life. It is an intense love story which tests the power of love over a lifetime of challenges and asks questions that people don't normally encounter in their daily lives - what do you do when you are not in control of your mind/body? What is it that defines you as a person? Is it your calling, your work, love and relationships in your life? What do you do when you are made to choose between these? Does the body have power over mind or is the other way around? Is there a difference?  The narration of Tim's life deals with such metaphysical and existential themes with the depth of a philosopher's mind, yet Ferris' style and language makes the characters and their problems very contemporary. There is a subtle distinction in the language and style of the text when dealing with the here and now versus when asking, and mostly not answering, questions about the tussle between mind and body. All the requisite components of dialog, description and action blend together in a manner that follows all the rules of Strunk and White. The text is rich in metaphors but is not allegorical because the mind's struggles are as physical and painful as the effects of the elements on Tim's body during his unpredictable and uncontrollable walks. The detailed physical descriptions of the characters and settings and down-to-earth yet insightful dialog bring you right into the lives of the characters and trap you there. No sooner do you get comfortable with the rhythm of the narrative, does the author bring in  hurdles to catch you off guard. The painfully lyrical language and the questions that Tim's life reflects back on oneself, keeps you on your mental toes, entirely without control.