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The Fourth Hand Hardcover – July 3, 2001

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Amazon.com 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

From Publishers Weekly

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. (July 10)Forecast: An arresting cover, 300,00 first printing and Irving's perennial popularity will launch this book, a BOMC main selection, onto the charts with brio.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (July 3, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375506276
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375506277
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (317 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,514,411 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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 www.john-irving.com

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 61 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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21 of 22 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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20 of 21 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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14 of 15 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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