In Joshua Ferris’s novel The Unnamed, the protagonist, Tim Farnsworth, suffers from an unnamed, mysterious disease shared by no other individual in the historical record or the present: he cannot stop walking. The compulsion to walk seizes him sporadically, as if his body has a mind of its own. At the novel’s opening, Tim has just returned home to the suburbs of New York City after his disease’s first recurrence in many years. He is a partner in a successful law firm in the city, but his colleagues know nothing of his bizarre disease. Only his wife, Jane; their seventeen-year-old daughter, Becka; and a slew of perplexed doctors know the severity of Tim’s condition. When he is moved to walk, he must oblige his body’s wishes, and the walks usually last several hours before his energy expires. Tim often falls asleep wherever the walks conclude, no matter if that spot is a public parking lot, a park bench, or a grassy area behind a dumpster.
Becka was nine years old the first time her father’s illness was manifested. After Tim’s walks became more frequent and no doctor could offer successful treatment, Tim and Jane decided he should be handcuffed to their bed. Even while lying down, Tim’s feet walked circles in the air. Then the disease “left as quickly as it came.” The second time, Becka was thirteen. Tim was not well again for over a year. After the first recurrence ended, Jane became a real estate agent because
she needed a purpose not entirely predicated upon other people, loved ones, the taking care of loved ones.
Given the current order of Tim’s life, this second recurrence is incredibly ill timed. He is working a murder case that his firm cannot afford to lose. Tim’s wealthy, well-connected client, R. H. Hobbs, was accused of stabbing his wife to death, and the trial is looming. Tim tells an associate at the firm that he might be “in and out” over the next few days. He is then forced to walk away from the conversation. Hours later, Jane finds her windburned, frostbitten husband in an emergency room.
Tim’s walks continue to interfere with his job performance. He cannot tell the other partners the truth because he worries they will think he is insane. To buy some time, he lies and says that Jane’s cancer has come back, and his colleagues back off a bit.
Eventually, Tim takes a leave of absence, and R. H. Hobbs becomes the responsibility of another partner, Mike Kronish, who knows too little about the case. Just before Tim stopped working, his favorite physician, Dr. Bagdasarian, offered the Farnsworths a glimmer of hope: he designed a helmet that would read Tim’s brain activity and might supply the first physical evidence for why Tim is compelled to walk. By this point, Becka has graduated from high school. During the summer before her first semester of college, she babysits her father while her mother is at work. After Tim starts wearing the helmet, the walks stop. He loafs on the couch then decides to make an appearance at the Hobbs trial, which has been underway for weeks. Tim enters the courtroom with his helmet still on, and he tries to take a seat beside Kronish “to help.” Kronish is furious. Just after Tim asks the judge for permission to remain present for the proceedings, he is seized by a walk and exits the...
(The entire section is 1359 words.)