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Extreme places

BY JOSIE JONES | FEBRUARY 02, 2010 7:30 AM

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What Joshua Ferris is looking forward to the most during his visit to Iowa City is eating pesto pizza at the Sanctuary and making a stop at Record Collector.

Ferris will also read from his most recent novel, The Unnamed, while in town. As a part of his current 17-stop book tour, the reading will begin at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

Written with a post 9/11 darkness, The Unnamed is about a man who has a disease — he is incapable of stopping his body from walking. He visits doctors and therapists, but none of them can make a diagnosis or develop an effective strategy against the unnamed disease. The book follows lawyer Tim Farnsworth’s story of how he deals with the ramifications of his sense of self, as well as his professional and personal life, while living with such a condition.

“I wanted to write about a disease in a way in which habilitation changes a man’s perception of himself,” Ferris said. “And also its effect on his family and his mental stability.”

UI English Professor Brooks Landon described The Unnamed as a serious work by a talented writer.

“[Ferris] stuns me with his imagination and wisdom,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Iowan.

In 2007, Ferris’ first novel, Then We Came to the End, was published and received praise for its comedic nature. Some aspects of Ferris’ two works overlap — ranging from the importance of people in a person’s life to sickness.

However, the two books are different in almost every other way, including content, perspective, and even the cast of characters. The Unnamed focuses on three main personalities, while Then We Came to the End features a much larger ensemble.

After two years of writing, The Unnamed was published on Jan. 18. Since its release, the novel received positive feedback despite being different from Ferris’ highly acclaimed début. Landon feels this is something audiences need to remember when a celebrated new writer publishes a sophomore novel.

“Second books are tricky: Readers and critics alike want them to recapture the magic of the first, so they look for familiar signs of that magic,” Landon said. “It’s almost as hard for readers to walk this tightrope of expectations as it is for writers.”

While Ferris admits it is hard to write a book — it requires a lot of concentration and effort — he said he loves both his novels equally. Although The Unnamed is more serious compared with his first, Ferris said the subject matter didn’t make the writing process any harder.

“There’s a way in which disease and a specter of death strips bear all of our comforts and illusions,” he said. “And I think fiction should try to get to those extreme places — that’s part of fiction’s job.”


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