I love looking at the "new arrivals" shelf in our library - sometimes I find a brand-new book by an author I never heard of and it intrigues me and I take it home and am swept away by a new story. This book was one of those.
I admit I hadn't hear of author Joshua Ferris before. His first novel was "Then We Came to the End", which won several awards. This is his second novel and I was immediately caught up by the premise: Tim is a partner at a prestigious law firm in Manhattan, with a lovely home in the suburbs, a wife who sells real estate and an overweight teenage daughter. Inexplicably, he suffers from a never before described disease that has incredible and far-reaching consequences for his life and everyone around him, and no one can determine if it is a physical illness or a mental disorder. Namely, he suffers from bouts of uncontrollable walking.
Are you intrigued? I was. I couldn't put the book down! The storyline shifts back and forth between different periods in his life when he suffers from the walking on a regular basis as well as the periods of remission in between, and little by little we learn what the disease really entails, how he manages it and what effects it has on him, his career, his wife and daughter and his relationships with them. Sometimes the story reminded me a bit of "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Nieffinger; towards the end of the book it often made me think of "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy.
The book deals with the idea of "til death do us part" in a marriage: to what lengths should a partner go to support the other partner with a debilitating illness? Should the sick partner stop accepting help and support from the other, and set them free to live a "better" life? Or is this also a kind of betrayal? It also adresses the question of a man's identity and how it can be so wrapped up in his career that nothing seems to be left when it is taken away from him.
Finally, the utter helplessness of the medical community when faced with something so unexplainable...the biggest question that I had in my mind all through the book was why didn't they consider amputating his legs? If that sounds barbaric, read the book and tell me if that doesn't occur to you as well, especially towards the end. Or does it seem that he finally finds some kind of peace with his existence? I couldn't decide.