by Joshua Ferris
I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this novel several months ago and have put off writing up my thoughts until the timing became more important. It isn't often that there's such a large gap in between reading and writing for me but I can say that my enthusiasm for this book hasn't dimmed in the interim; in fact because I started off feeling fairly ambivalent about it and gradually became caught up in its many strengths, it is a book that I am as enthusiastic about now as when I finished its final page.
The night before, he had been wheeling the trash down the drive to the curb, one in the morning. It was the second of three bins. He knew halfway down that he would not be back for the third. He knew the sensation as an epileptic knows an aura. As an epileptic feels the dread of an uncoming seizure, he was crestfallen, broken-hearted, instantly depressed by what was now foretold. It's back.
What has returned after a four year absence is Tim's 'condition', something either physical or mental or both that sends him walking out of his own life, away from his home until his body collapses, exhausted, when it can go no further.
He looked down at his legs. It was like watching footage of legs walking from the point of view of the walker. That was the helplessness, this was the terror: the brakes are gone, the steering wheel has locked, I am at the mercy of this wayward machine.
They stared into the essential mystery of each other, but felt passing between them in those rare moments of silence the recognition of that more impossible mystery - their togetherness, the agreement each had made that they could withstand the wayward directions they had taken and, despite their inviolable separateness, still remain. It had nothing to do with how age and custom had narrowed their circumstances or how sickness had shapes them outside their control. It was not a backward but a forward glance.
So what does this condition represent? What is Tim running from? What I feared initially was going to be another novel about early male crisis or rejection of modern progress or middle class convention has far grander ambitions. Tim's condition is open to many interpretations and opens up many social and philosophical ideas, even developing into a kind of dialogue of Cartesian dualism between the competing forces within Tim. As his condition worsens and he wanders alone, having rejected any help from his family, giving himself over to 'it', his mind and body separate; or perhaps more accurately, his reason and this other become discernible voices, battling it out for control.
"You go on and on about how cold and hungry you are," he said. "The night is long, you say. Good shoes are not just a luxury. But then you're off and thee's no appeal. There's no explanation for your behaviour and no memory of your complaints. Are you not still cold? Are you not hungry? What is your purpose, your aim, but to hurl us both into suffering and darkness? Speak to me! You destroy my life, you rob me of my will, you troll me through the streets like meat on a hook. You have laid plain all my limitations and my total illusion of freedom. To what end? What do you gain from this?"
The other limped along steadily, saying nothing