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.


Joshua Ferris in The New Yorker

Joshua Ferris, author of last year’s Then We Came To The End, has a new short story in the current issue of the New Yorker titled, “The Dinner Party.” I’ve read a couple of Ferris’ shorts after reading the novel and he’s legit.  His stories on the surface seem unremarkable – the prose delivered with a breezy casual air – but they pack an unexpected emotional whollop that emerges as the story progresses.

“The Dinner Party” has particularly fresh dialog:

He returned to the kitchen. “When they come in,” he said, “let’s make them do a shot, both of them.”

“A shot?”

“Of tequila.”

“Her, too?”

“Both of them.”

“To sort of . . . fortify the baby.”

“We’ll force them somehow,” he said. “I’ll figure it out.”

“Better hurry,” she said.

“All this talk of folic acid and prenatal vitamins. Give me a break. Do they think Attila the Hun got his daily dose of folic acid when he was in the womb? Napoleon?” She was going back and forth across the kitchen while he kept his drink close. “I could go on.”

“George Washington,” she said, “a Founding Father.”

“See? I could go on. Moses.”

The arc of this story is somewhat unique, in that it slowly builds upon itself, and then rises sharply during the last paragraph, culminating in a climatic final phrase.

(Photo:  The Brooklyn Paper / Daniel Krieger)

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Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

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The 150-word Review: We need to commiserate. Our jobs sap us of our essence, our passion. We do our best to get by. We crave distractions. We pound our keyboards indignantly when they block YouTube from the company browsers. Gossip sustains us; it’s our life’s blood. Retirement parties depress us and fill us with hope. We pity those who crack under the pressure. And the rare few who remain above the fray fill us with mistrust. Who do they think they are?

We love Joshua Ferris’ debut novel, “Then We Came To the End.” He knows our pain. He’s lived it. We appreciate his vivid characters for their familiar feel. They remind us of people we know, people we work with, but somehow he avoids reducing them to simple caricatures. We also envy Joshua Ferris. He found a way out. He is a writer. He no longer has to endure what we endure.

You will like this book if you are a fan of: job security, the smell of toner ink, “the Office,” blank computer screens, creative pressure, “Office Space,” people who take their jobs way too seriously, comfortable office furniture, and plural first-person pronouns.

This book will go great with: whatever you can fit in this.

Set the mood with: Walking Spanish by Tom Waits

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, the term “walking Spanish” is derived from the custom of pirates, in the Spanish Main, of forcing prisoners to walk while holding them by the neck so that their toes barely touched the deck.