The Fourth Hand asks an interesting question: “How can anyone identify a dream of the future?” The answer: “Destiny is not imaginable, except in dreams or to those in love.”
While reporting a story from India, a New York television journalist has his left hand eaten by a lion; millions of TV viewers witness the accident. In Boston, a renowned hand surgeon awaits the opportunity to perform the nation’s first hand transplant; meanwhile, in the distracting aftermath of an acrimonious divorce, the surgeon is seduced by his housekeeper. A married woman in Wisconsin wants to give the one-handed reporter her husband’s left hand– that is, after her husband dies. But the husband is alive, relatively young, and healthy.
This is how John Irving’s tenth novel begins; it seems, at first, to be a comedy, perhaps a satire, almost certainly a sexual farce. Yet, in the end, The Fourth Hand is as realistic and emotionally moving as any of Mr. Irving’s previous novels – including The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and A Widow for One Year – or his Oscar-winning screenplay of The Cider House Rules.
The Fourth Hand is characteristic of John Irving’s seamless storytelling and further explores some of the author’s recurring themes – loss, grief, love as redemption. But this novel also breaks new ground; it offers a penetrating look at the power of second chances and the will to
A touch of the bizarre has always enlivened Irving's novels, and here he outdoes himself in spinning a grotesque incident into a dramatic story brimming with humor, sexual shenanigans and unexpected poignancy. While reporting on a trapeze artist who fell to his death in India (shades of Irving's A Son of the Circus), handsome TV anchorman Patrick Wallingford experiences a freak accident his left hand is chewed off by a lion. Wallingford's network, a low-rent pseudo-CNN, promotes the video of the accident, making Wallingford notorious world-wide as "the lion guy." Five years after the accident, Wallingford is made whole via the second hand-transplant ever. The hand comes with a strange condition, however. It belonged to Otto Clausen, who willed it to Wallingford at wife Doris's instigation, and Doris wants visiting rights. On her first meeting with Wallingford, they have sex, Wallingford recognizing Doris's voice as one he heard in a vision in India while recovering from his accident. Doris, desperate to get pregnant, has her own agenda. Soon, in a sort of reversal of Taming of the Shrew, she is teaching the normally satyric Wallingford to domesticate his libido. Irving is not aiming for a grand statement in this novel, but something closer to the lovers-chasing-lovers structure of farce. As in all good comedy, there are some fabulous villains, chief among them Wallingford's sexually Machiavellian boss, Mary, who also wants to conceive his baby. Irving's set pieces are on that high level of American gothic comedy he has made uniquely his own the scene in which Wallingford goes to bed with a gum-chewing makeup girl is particularly irresistible. Refreshingly slim in comparison with Irving's previous works, and written with a new crispness, this fast-paced novel will do more than please Irving's numerous fans it will garner him new ones.
Customer ReviewsSee All
100 Words or Less
Though I consider myself to be an avid Irving fan, I hadn’t read anything by him since “Owen Meany”. So when I saw this novel (in the discount bin), I snatched it up.
A huge disappointment. My main (and only) complaint is how unlikeable every character turned out to be. I was expecting quirkiness, but what I got was self-centered idiots. By pg. 75 they seemed so callous and mean-spirited that I didn’t care what happened to them. So why should I keep reading? I didn’t.