Now that it’s January and the book is out there, I want to comment on Joshua Ferris’s The Unnamed. Mainly because, unlike most of the reviews I’ve read (even the tepid dismissal from The New York Times faulted mainly his overreaching & writing himself into a narrative corner), I found it hugely disappointing. Which is a nice way of saying that I think it’s a terrible, lazy work. I like Ferris and I liked his first novel, but this one takes a premise with great big gobs of potential and goes nowhere all that creative with it. Ye olde premise: a man finds himself afflicted with an uncontrollable urge to walk – guy gets up and walks, any old random time of day, any old place, icy winter, whatever, and he can’t stop himself. Chin-stroking-Hmmm, right?
Nope. The situations created by “the unnamed” affliction (doctors can’t figure it out, and Obama hasn’t fixed health care yet) are pedestrian, uninspired, 2-D. You’d think there’d be some allegory goin’ on, but no. It plays out like a bad Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino movie. There’s a brief scene featuring a detective so embarrassingly cliched that I felt sure Ferris was having some fun with his readers – there was certainly some nudge-wink going on, maybe the whole thing was a bad dream and walker-guy would wake up in a shower stall with a treadmill, or he’d go out walking and when he was found he’d look just like Balthazar Getty. No such fun to be found; it’s not even relentlessly gloomy and tragic. (They call each other “Banana”. If there’s a good reason, it’s either not revealed, or I’ve blocked it from my memory in a fit of PTSD.) Given all the hype around it, though, combined with the color-by-numbers plotting, we can expect a film version to surface, probably around awards season 2011. Hopefully the screen treatment will find something more provocative to do with the material.