The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

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The 150-word Review: Heads.  Heads.  Heads. Tom Stoppard’s tragicomedy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, opens with one hundred fifty-two coin flips that land “heads” each time, prompting Guildenstern to posit that they are “held within sub- or supernatural forces.”  In a way, they are.  The improbability of the coin flips—and also of the duo’s fate—is written.  They are held within Stoppard’s brilliantly absurd lines and, ultimately, within the titular line originally spun by the Bard.

And so, too, is the protagonist of The Unnamed held within the sub- or supernatural force of Joshua Ferris’ invention.  Tim Farnsworth suffers from a heretofore unimaginable disorder:  the irresistible compulsion to walk and walk and walk to the point of exhaustion.  When his affliction strikes for the third time, Tim and his family are plunged into a remarkable struggle to hold onto to familiar ties and find order amidst a world that artfully has none.

You will like this book if you’re a fan of: entropy, Then We Came To The End, the countryside, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ambitious prose, The Myth of Sisyphus, and beating the sophomore slump.

Cliff Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): You know Norm, Joshua Ferris is a graduate of the UC Irvine MFA Writing Program, along with notable alumni Michael Chabon and Richard Ford, to name a few.


The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

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The 150-word Review: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line: a geometric ideal unattainable by human hands alone.  Try drawing the trajectory of your life, free hand, from Point A to Point B.  A straight line is impossible.  Even in the steadiest hand, it would contain a multitude of veers, tremors, and digressions.  Among these, and their accompanying corrections, lies the richness of life.

The Lamberts are anything but steady hands.  Enid, at once suffering and insufferable, struggles to maintain a sense of Midwestern propriety in an empty house with Alfred, distant and cold, as his mind slowly succumbs to Parkinson’s.  Their three children have escaped to the East Coast (and beyond) for the calamities of their adult lives.  In this brilliant novel, Jonathan Franzen sinks into the mistakes and corrections of each, proving with great authenticity, that the most interesting distance between two points is not a straight line.

You will enjoy this book if you are a fan of: advanced metallurgy, railroad engineering, Lithuanian politics, academic dilettantism, chemical dependency, haute cuisine, Midwestern propriety, luxury cruises, and Family Christmas.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Funny thing Norm, Franzen publicly lamented the fact that The Corrections was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club.

Some Things I’m Currently Loving… The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

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Just started The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen last night.  After a tepid few weeks of reading, this one’s turning into a real treat.  It took a while for me to settle into Franzen’s prose, but now I’m loving it.

The opening description of the Enid and Al Lambert’s home in “St. Jude” reads awkwardly, but I think — after the fact — it is purposefully written as such to capture the stagnant yet precarious nature of the household.  It takes a few pages to accept the “guerilla warfare” metaphor used to describe Enid’s silent battle to keep the household finances out-of-site from an excitable and semi-lucid Al, but ultimately it works.

Things really start popping in “The Failure,” when we meet Chip, the Lambert’s 43-year-old disaster of a son, a disgraced former liberal arts professor, now scraping by as a writer in New York City.  Chip’s flashback, reliving his comic tryst with a seductive undergrad, Melissa, and subsequent flameout at D—— College, is one of the most hilariously sharp set pieces I’ve read in a long time.  Franzen is rolling during this section and having a blast while at it.

Some of my favorite lines thus far:

It’s the fate of most Ping-Pong tables in home basements eventually to serve the ends of other, more desperate games. (p. 7)

The space between Al’s “I am-” and “packing my suitcase,” (p. 11) is a wonderfully flashy digression.

“They’re leather.  They’re like a second skin.” (p. 18)

Did you grow up here?” (Or do you come from a trans-Appalachian state where people are warmhearted and down-to-earth and unlikely to be Jewish) (p. 23)

Soft curves in thermal knitwear spilled out on either side of her overalls’ bib, Chip noticed.  (p. 49)

The VCR made a dry, thin choking sound.  Air; need air, it seemed to say. (p.51)

… each image recalled him to the unfunny raw comedy of what he’d done to her.  The jismic grunting butt-oink.  The jiggling frantic nut-swing.  (p. 58)

The last one’s my favorite so far.  More to come.