A review of

The Unnamed

by Joshua Ferris

Central question: What’s it like to be a mostly hopeless, completely confounding medical mystery?
Obligatory plot summary: A New York lawyer is stricken by a mysterious ailment that causes him to embark, against his will, on epic, self-destructive walks; it gradually ruins his life; Main characters: Tim, the lawyer-walker, his long-suffering wife, Jane, and their overweight, angst-ridden teen daughter; On the author: Longest walk he ever took was twenty miles, in the woods of Pennsylvania, with his brother. Film rights to his best-selling debut novel, Then We Came to the End, have been sold to HBO Films; Representative sentence: “It was like an accident you caught sight of in the rearview mirror, and the car you saw was your own.”

Dear Joshua Ferris,

Do you realize that you’ve written the second great novel about obsessive-compulsive disorder published in the past decade? (I plan to shelve it next to Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, with its hypnotic rhythm of repetition and control.) I know The Unnamed is supposed to remain just that—the novel goes to great lengths to avoid being reductive, and Tim visits every breed of specialist in an attempt to determine whether his singular malady is medical, psychological, or nestled in some in-between grey area… but your protagonist’s central malady just has too much in common with OCD, a brainworm that can wax and wane. How chilling, then, when Tim first says those words—“It’s back”—that signify the return of his obsessive, compulsive walking. (I imagine the words uttered in a dread-filled whisper, like something out of an Argento flick about the inexplicable and cruel depths of the human body. You’ve written a medical horror story.)

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Scott Indrisek

Scott Indrisek writes for Time Out New York, Whitewall, and Asylum.com. He almost survived the death of print media in 2009. He is still working on a novel, which is still called Awful Bliss.

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