Reagan Arthur/Little Brown & Company, 2010
Genre: Thriller? Personal Dystopia?
My Rating: 4.5 stars (Make Time For This One)
Imagine that, one day, you are compelled to start walking. You HAVE to walk. You walk for hours until you collapse from exhaustion. The compulsion to walk can strike at any time, in any weather. You might be in the middle of a work meeting. You might be sitting at home talking to your wife. You don’t want to walk, but you’re forced to by some compulsion that no medical doctor can detect or define. And it seems like you might be the only one in the world who has this compulsion.
Imagine that you are married to a man who suffers from this walking compulsion. At any time of day or night, he might disappear from your home. Frantic, you drive your car searching for him. Sometimes you find him sleeping in a pile of snow, half-frozen, miles from your suburban home. Other times you have to wait until you receive a phone call telling you where he is. You love him … you really do. But this walking compulsion is difficult to understand. What is making him do this? Why can’t the doctors figure it out? Is this a mental illness? Is he faking it? Sometimes the stress of living with the uncertainty of his affliction is too much to handle. But then the compulsion disappears. Life gets back to normal. Until one day, “it” starts again.
This is the life of Tim and Jane Farnsworth. As the book opens, the walking has started again for the third time after stopping for a few years. As readers, we’re plunged right into the thick of it—with Tim and Jane struggling to keep it together and maintain the life they’ve built since the last time “it” happened. Alternating between Tim and Jane’s perspectives, the book explores how Tim’s walking affects their lives, their marriage, and the life of their only daughter—who is just now beginning to fully understand what her father and mother have gone through.
I started this book early one evening, was quickly sucked in, and finished it in one night. I felt as compelled to read it as Tim was compelled to walk. The details on how Tim and Jane try to manage his walking were fascinating and horrible. And the choices that each makes to try and keep Tim’s compulsion from destroying their lives were simultaneously tragic and heroic. My heart broke when Tim decided to try and spare Jane the continued horror of his affliction, and it broke again when he struggled to return to her in a time of need.
When I began reading, I was reminded of Stephen King’s story, The Long Walk, which is wildly different but involves forced walking. (In the story, teenage boys are forced to walk until they are the last one standing or risk being shot to death.) When reading King’s story, I was fascinated with the idea of being forced to walk far beyond what your body could take or endure. I rekindled that fascination when reading about Tim’s walking. Ferris does a wonderful job of making the walking “come alive.” At times, I felt like I was out there with Tim…tramping by empty fields or down the sides of abandoned highways. The logistics of how Tim and Jane try to cope with the walking interested me too. It was impossible for me not to imagine myself in Tim’s place. What would I do if this happened to me? Interestingly, I never really imagined myself as Jane. In many ways, being Jane seemed like the more horrifying position to be in, which I think says something about me but I’m not sure what.
This felt like such an original book. When trying to figure out what “genre” to put it in, I was flummoxed. Is this is a thriller? In a way— but it doesn’t really capture the depth and “literariness” of the book. I finally decided it was a Personal Dystopia. In most dystopian books, we see an entire world that is negative or horrifying. In this book, only Tim and Jane experience the dystopia. Their world is ripped apart in a way that no one else can fully comprehend or define. At one point, Tim wishes he suffered from something that was “named” and “known”—like cancer—something you could explain to someone and they could understand or sympathize with.
I loved this book. It was dark and bleak and haunting and compelling. If you’re looking for something different to read and what I’ve described sounds intriguing, give this book a try. I imagine you’ll find it as haunting and compelling as I did. (Just a word of caution: Don’t start it if you don’t have time to finish it any time soon. If you’re like me, you won’t be able to stop reading. It really was “unputdownable.”)
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The Whys and Wheres: I bought this book for my Kindle after reading this review on The Book Lady’s Blog.
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