Last week, I went off, in a good way, on one of two great novels I’ve read so far in this sharp-fanged new century. (Please note that these literary judgments are personal, based only on novels that The Booky Man has read personally.) More great novels are out there, certainly. I hope to meet them soon and often.
Last week The Book Thief, a heartbreakingly lovely young adult book by New Zealand’s Markus Zusak, earned a hymn of praise. If this awestruck reviewer embarrassed himself gushing about it … well, he’s happy and at peace. You have a look. You’ll gush too.
This week, The Booky Man follows up with the second great novel of the century so far—The Unnamed, by Joshua Ferris.
I reviewed this astonishing book in the February issue of this magazine and gave it one of the highest ratings for any book I’ve reviewed in five years here as Paste’s books editor.
Ferris tells the tale of a sharp, successful young lawyer, the kind of guy you see in the pages of Esquire magazine dressed in $1,200 shoes and this year’s Burberry greatcoat. Tim Farnsworth has everything under control. He lives in a dream home, lies down with a beautiful devoted wife, and tiptoes around a moody teen daughter.
The good life changes to a nightmare with just two words: It’s back.
Tim experiences the return of a disease that isn’t in the medical literature. The undiagnosed and chronic ailment—The Unnamed—is perhaps of the mind, perhaps of the body. Whatever, it compels the man, no matter what’s he’s busy doing, to strike out walking. He wears whatever he has on at the moment – business suit, bathrobe, socks. He cannot stop to rest, cannot stop even when his toes freeze black. He must walk until the ailment releases him. He drops with exhaustion wherever he happens to be—in a dumpster, a snowbank, a yard.
I see The Unnamed as a signal literary work of our first decade.
Sickness and terror endure as the two gravest worries of our modern world – how soon till one or the other touches us, or those we know?
In Ferris’s great book, Tim and his family face disease as terrorist, striking unpredictably and destructively. That’s why the predicament of the Farnsworths resonates at many levels, and why we turn the pages for each glimpse of courage and despair and hope and beautiful, incandescent writing.
The Unnamed is required reading.
Charles McNair is Paste‘s books editor. His novel Land o’ Goshen was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.