Tim Farnsworth is a successful trial lawyer in Joshua Ferris's bleak novel,THE UNNAMED. Victim of an undiagnosed, strangely inscrutable, nameless disease (hence, the novel's name), he is compelled to walk without end until he collapses somewhere, anywhere, in the midst of winter.
When the novel opens, the disease attacks again for the third time. Again, all he can do is walk and walk and walk. He has sought help from the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, experts in Switzerland--all to no avail. Doctors, hospitals, diets, medication, psychiatrists. Nothing helps. And nobody knows why Tim keeps walking. The cause seems neither physical nor emotional--or so he thinks.
A high-priced, successful criminal lawyer, Tim has no control over his body. His wife, Jane, who tries handcuffs, ropes, even a trail bag filled with a GPS, can't keep him home. He walks out on his client, who has been accused of murdering his wife. When Tim is forced to turn over the case to a colleague, the innocent client is found guilty.
Each of the Farnsworth family's bodies loses control. Jane succumbs to metastatic cancer. Becka, their teen-age daughter, is beset by obesity. Meantime, Tim leaves for good, constantly marching to his own drummer.
Although the first third of the UNNAMED is compelling, it soon breaks down into a repetitive series of Tim's meaningless walking. If readers stick with the unlikeable Tim till the last page, we're still not sure why Tim walked nor why we as readers stayed. Nor are we sure what Ferris is getting at: how disease hovers over well-tended lives? how compulsion destroys the best-laid plans of careers and family? I don't know for metaphor gets let behind.
The only thing we know is how relieved we are to be quits of Tim's endless walking.