Joshua Ferris’ debut novel, Then We Came to the End, was fiction, but it was set in an advertising agency where the usual laws of physics apply. His new novel, The Unnamed, is set in a law firm in New York, but it’s also a world where a disease with one strange symptom—walk attacks—is wreaking havoc on one man’s life. Through that condition and its disastrous consequences, Ferris deftly explores the nature of sickness and marital commitment and the power of the unknown. His protagonist, Tim Farnsworth, leads a fairly quotidian existence: He has a home in the suburbs, a devoted wife, and an angst-ridden daughter. But twice in the past, he has been seized by an unexplained, nameless disease that ignites in him the overwhelming desire to walk. Early in the novel, Tim manages his ailment—he sets out on walks but calls his wife, Jane, to pick him up when he tires—while retaining some semblance of a normal life. Despite Jane’s devotion, she considers abandoning Tim, thinking about her remaining “half a lifetime” that she’s squandering by keeping track of Tim. Jane suffers from recurring bouts of cancer, an illness that Tim uses as a cover for his increasingly diminished output at the law firm. The two diseases run parallel to each other, and Ferris pits the known dangers of cancer against the many unknowns of Tim’s illness—he suggests that the known, even if the more lethal of the two, is always the better bet. The early pages feature a tight narrative, but as Tim’s illness progresses and his mental state disintegrates, Ferris adopts a disjointed, erratic style. When Tim stops fighting against his illness, he quits his job and embarks on a permanent walk that takes him across the country through a pseudoapocalyptic landscape of wildfires and abandoned strip malls. Eventually circumstances bring Tim back to New York. It’s a trip that takes weeks, and when he gets there, he finds it harder than ever to reconcile his impulse to walk with his desire to remain by Jane’s side. Ferris tackles heavy themes and compares Tim’s search for the doctor who can identify the disease (“the One Guy’s answers and the One Guy’s hope”) to the search for God. As he ponders the human need to find answers and obtain diagnoses, The Unnamed becomes a meditation on more than just a single man’s affliction—it is an exploration, and ultimately an acceptance, of the mysteries of human life. Indeed, Ferris suggests, we all have unanswerable questions and beliefs that isolate those closest to us. Tim loses everything he holds dear when he attempts to spare his loved ones from his pain—he is a martyr to the unknown.