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The Fourth Hand Paperback – May 14, 2002

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Product Details

  • Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (May 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345449347
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345449344
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (303 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #177,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Like anything newsworthy, miracles of medicine and technology inevitably make their way out of the headlines and become the stuff of fiction. In recent years readers have been absorbed by media accounts of a transplanted hand, an experiment that ultimately ended in amputation. Medical ethicists reason that a hand, unlike a heart or a liver--essential organs conveniently housed out of sight--is in full view and one of a pair, arguably dispensable. In his 10th novel, however, John Irving undertakes to imagine just such a transplant, which involves a donor, a recipient, a surgeon, a particular Green Bay Packer fan, and the remarkable left hand that brings them together.

Television reporter Patrick Wallingford becomes a story himself when he loses his hand to a caged lion while in India covering a circus. The moment is captured live on film, and Patrick (who wears a "perpetual but dismaying smile--the look of someone who knows he's met you before but can't recall the exact occasion") is henceforth known as the lion guy. Before long, plans are made to equip Patrick with a new hand. Doctor Nicholas M. Zajac, superstar surgeon, indefatigable dog-poop scooper, runner, and part-time father, is poised to perform the operation. But the donor--or rather the widow of the donor--has a few stipulations. Doris Clausen wants to meet the one-handed reporter before the procedure, and insists on visitation rights afterward. Irving weaves these characters and a panoply of others together in a smart, funny, readable narrative. Often farcical, The Fourth Hand is ultimately something more: a tender chronicle of the redemptive power of love. --Victoria Jenkins --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

As the world watches, handsome TV journalist Patrick Wallingford, who is obsessed with minutely described one-night stands, has his hand eaten by a lion at the Gnesh Circus. (The gnesh is an Indian symbol of new beginnings). Viewer Doris and her husband Otto are obsessed with the Green Bay Packers and with having a child. Doris cajoles Otto into willing his left hand to Patrick and surprise! Otto soon (accidentally?) kills himself. Famous hand surgeon Nicholas Zajak is, for his part, obsessed with dog feces also described in endless detail which he scoops up with his old lacrosse stick and hurls at rowers on the Charles River. Zajak attaches Otto's hand to Patrick, and Doris demands visitation rights with Otto's hand, as well as with Patrick's child-producing equipment. Though their motivations remain unclear, all three characters are redeemed by their newfound obsessions with winning the love of their sons. Culp's clear, pleasant, middle-range reading voice, appropriately ironic tone and fun, exaggerated Boston accents are easy on the ears. Simultaneous release with Random House hardcover (Forecasts, June 25).

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

John Irving published his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, in 1968. He has been nominated for a National Book Award three times-winning once, in 1980, for the novel The World According to Garp. He also received an O. Henry Award, in 1981, for the short story "Interior Space." In 1992, Mr. Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 2000, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules-a film with seven Academy Award nominations. In 2001, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

For more information about the author, please visit

Customer Reviews

With 70 pages left in the book, I just wanted it to be over.
Geoffrey S. Hineman
I think this is a great book for any one who has experience with Irving, loves good fiction, and is looking for a fun, relatively easy read.
Z. Blume
His characters are rather shallow and the plot not very well thought out.
V. Marshall

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 60 people found the following review helpful By C. Fletcher on July 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
John Irving is a brilliant writer, but "The Fourth Hand" is less than a brilliant book. It's immensely readable, that's for sure--it's hard not to fly through this book, even if you're an incredibly slow reader, like I am. But by the time you've sprinted to the end of its 313 pages--making it Irving's second shortest novel after "The Water-Method Man"--you're left with the twitching-phantom-limb feeling that "The Fourth Hand" is missing something important.
But what is it missing? Most of the characters are sufficiently unique and interestingly colorful to satisfy any long-time John Irving reader. I loved the subplot with the hand surgeon, Zajac, his son, and his housekeeper. The writing, as usual, is top-notch. (I must say, however, I was a little disappointed with the first sentence. Usually Irving knocks you right off your feet with his first sentences. This one barely made me shuffle my feet.)
What "The Fourth Hand" lacks that Irving's best novels nearly drown you in is a sense of emotional immensity. It doesn't help matters that this is such a short book. I think Irving is at his best in the form of the sprawling novel, where his themes and characters have ample time and space to weave themselves together on the loom of your imagination.
"The Fourth Hand" suffers from excessive lightness. It might be thought of as the 158-Pound Novel. There's a heaviness--a pleasant heaviness--to books like "The World According to Garp," "A Prayer for Owen Meany," and "A Widow For One Year" that simply isn't here.
And the plot just isn't as satisfying as that of "The Hotel New Hampshire" or "The Cider House Rules".
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Douglas A. Greenberg VINE VOICE on July 31, 2001
Format: Hardcover
John Irving's novels are always worth reading, and *The Fourth Hand* is no exception. Certainly, it's a fun summertime read that moves right along and is seldom (though I can't say never)boring. As always, Irving creates some memorable and bizarre body-related imagery and a few weirdly endearing characters, such as the gum-chewing makeup girl, Angie. The famous Irving dry wit manifests itself frequently, and there is enough worthwhile social commentary related to the predatory nature of the media and the overall foibles of human nature to render this book "ok."
But compared with *The Cider House Rules* *A Son of the Circus* (an underrated jewel of a novel), *A Widow For One Year*, and even *The World According to Garp*, this book seems a pallid effort, indeed. The overall premise/metaphor related to the loss of the protagonist's left hand seems labored and at times even silly; the characters on the whole seem wooden, unlikeable, and even worse, unmemorable; and the slightly sappy ending is all too predictable and Hollywood-esque. I would add that Irving's main character, the handsome newscaster Patrick Wallingford, seems oddly bland for a guy who supposedly is irresistable to all women. In fact, Patrick's seemingly effortless success at bedding any and all females seems to represent a male fantasy of sexual omniscience, the flip side of which is Irving's unflattering portrayal of just about all of his female characters as conniving and manipulative. It's hard for me to reconcile Irving's strangely flat and unappealing lead characters with the supposed ultimate message regarding how love abides and conquers all.
This is certainly not a terrible novel.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By S. Organ on August 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Many years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a book reading by Mr. Irving. During the Q & A section, Mr. Irving commented that he was hoping to begin writing smaller books with fewer characters with more contained circumstances. With The Fourth Hand, Mr. Irving has finally published such a book.
The style of the book may be troubling to the fans of John Irving. The pace, language, and characterizations lacks that unique Irvingesque feel to it. This is not to undermine the excellence of the work, but if you are looking for the further hilarious adventures of another Owen Meany or Homer Wells, you won't find it within these pages.
What you do find is a tightly-written and very intimate work, which is really the hallmark of John Irving's writings. The lead protagonist, Patrick Wallingford, is vintage Irving: flawed, a victim of circumstances, yet sensitive to his own inner workings. And, as with all of Irvings characters, looking for some higher meaning in life and finding it in the most unlikely of places.
The Fourth Hand is a wonderful, touching, and emotional book; very reminiscent of one of Mr. Irvings earliest novels, The Water-Method Man. Ignore the "disappointed fans" who bemoan that the book is not another Owen Meany or Cider House Rules. Instead, settle down for a comfortable read and enjoy a world that only John Irving knows how best to create.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Michael B. Jones on July 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
From the man who gave us "Garp", "Owen Meany, "Hotel New Hampshire", "A Widow For One Year" and "The Cider House Rules", I expected more. In the last four years I have become a rabid John Irving fan, and have devoured 8 of his ten novels and loved most of them. However, "The Fourth Hand" left me fairly cold and flat.
Irivng seems to be at his best when writing from what he knows: boarding schools, wrestling, bears, and when he writes in a true Dickensian Style. I'm sorry to say that "The Fourth Hand" has no boarding schools, no character aspires to be (or was) a wrestler, and the only wild animals are the lions in chapter one. Wallingford is shallow and uninteresting for the first two thirds of the book, and the female characters surrounding him are primarily cardboard displays. At one point, one of his conquests (Angie the makeup girl) sets up some very interesting possibilities, but in the end, turns out to be as uninteresting a character to us as she must be to Wallingford.
The plot is thin this time around, and although hardly predictable, has none of the classic structure, skill and style of "Owen Meany", and none of the heart of "Cider House." Perhaps it is unfair to categorize this novel with the others I've listed here. It is not a New England/Vienna novel, it does not aspire to the depths of literary greatness that "Owen Meany" does, and it has none of the political timeliness of "Garp". It is a simple story of a simple man. Unfortunately, Irving has shown us that he is capable of far more than this simplicity.
Maybe expectations lead to disappointments, but after the four BRILLIANT novels I mention above, "The Fourth Hand" pales.
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