Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Unnamed; these boots ain't made for walking

Timing counts for a lot. Tomorrow evening I fly off to England to spend eight days walking the 100-mile long South Downs Way. Yesterday, I finished The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris, a novel about a man who literally walks himself to death.

It's an odd novel and I'm not certain what to make of it. A novel of alienation and disaffection, perhaps; of modern man's need to constantly put distance between himself and the so-called good life he has fashioned for himself? You could say that.

At a minimum, it's a cautionary tale for me.

Tim Farnsworth is a successful man; he is a partner in a robust Manhattan law firm; he loves his wife and they seem to have a healthy sex life; he's a little distant from his chubby daughter, but loves her nonetheless. And then he starts walking.

Ultimately, Tim walks himself out of his job, away from his wife and daughter and his nice house and wherever his legs take him. Tim is baffled by this compulsion. Is he mentally ill or is it some disease of one? Is there a biological component? Whatever the root source of Tim's walking, by the novels end it has wrecked his mind and body, although he stills clings to love for his family and they for him.

His reunion with his dying wife and the meeting with his infant grandson are powerful and affecting scenes. Still, it is difficult (at least for me) to say what it all adds up to.

When it comes to Canadian science fiction writer Robert Sawyer, I'm a fan boy. Watch is the second in his trilogy on an emergent consciousness that resides on the World Wide Web. I especially admire, and appreciate, Sawyer's ability to take aspects of science and dumb it down. I understand most of what he's writing about.

Sawyer also has created a nice cast of characters in the trilogy and the story -- with Rob's usual assortment of heroes and villains -- makes an entertaining read.

1 comment:

  1. Holy spoilers! I'm glad I've read The Unnamed because I wouldn't want to know that much about it before I read it. I would have liked to hear more about your thoughts too. I really enjoyed it, especially while I was reading (actually listening) to it, but I'm not sure how much it has stayed with me or continued to resonate.