The Fourth Hand

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Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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."

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Irving fans might be surprised by this follow-up to the hugely successful A Widow for One Year. It's short! Weighing in at just over 300 pages, The Fourth Hand is the author's leanest novel in 25 years. Gone are the in-depth, Dickensian (and sometimes bombastic) character studies that endeared T. S. Garp and Owen Meany to millions of readers. Is this a good thing? Yes and no. What this novel lacks in character development, Irving more than makes up for in a bizarre, farcical, razor-sharp narrative that is, more often than not, wet-your-pants funny.

Patrick Wallingford is an obscenely good-looking television journalist whose biggest problem in the world is that women can't stop falling in love with him (except his wife, who has fallen deeply out of love with him). While he's on assignment in India, covering the death of a trapeze artist's husband at the Great Ganesh Circus, Patrick's hand is chomped off by a hungry lion. Millions of people witness this horrifying event, and Patrick becomes a worldwide object of pity (which helps him bed more women than he ever thought possible). Years later, he finds himself a candidate for a risky hand transplant operation. Enter Boston surgeon Dr. Nicholas Zajac, a brilliant hand specialist who has a penchant for hurling dog turds at unsuspecting rowers on the Charles River, and Doris Clausen, a Wisconsin widow who wants to give Patrick her husband's hand -- for a price. What happens when these baroque worlds collide is an immensely readable tale that runs the gamut of human emotions.

In John Irving's novels, truth resides not in beauty but in the absurd. His characters are repeatedly tested under extreme and, at times, grotesque physical and emotional conditions, yet he never throws them into a situation they can't handle. Though the characters are not as well drawn here, as in, say, The Cider House Rules, their struggle to understand themselves in a world imbued with violence is no less powerful. Though perhaps a minor work in Irving's oeuvre, The Fourth Hand is a major story about the redemptive power of love and the all-too-human desire for connection. (Stephen Bloom)

Chris Bohjalian
...a rich and deeply moving tale, and (in the best sense) vintage John Irving: a story of two very disparate people, and the strange and unexpected ways we may grow.
Washington Post Book World
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). (July) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A handsome TV newsman has his left hand chomped off by a hungry lion, and a former lacrosse star stays in game shape by hurling dog turds into the Charles River . . . hmmm, probably not the new Eudora Welty novel, you say? Right you are. It's Irving, up to his old tricks again (and are they ever getting old), aiming for the savage comic irony of his best novel (The World According to Garp) and instead recycling the arbitrary whimsy that produced his worst (The Hotel New Hampshire). This one begins when Patrick Warrington, who's covering the Great Ganesh Circus in India for a thrills-oriented media operation reviled throughout the industry as "the calamity channel," stands too close to the lions' cage, and suffers the mutilation that will elicit gasps around the world from the many women who have loved (and will love) him. Among the latter is Doris Clausen of Green Bay, Wisconsin, who impulsively offers a donor hand from her husband Otto (inconveniently, still alive). Otto complies by killing himself (whether he's despairing over a Packers' loss is unclear), and all seems well-though Doris is demanding "visitation rights" with Otto's hand. Eminent Boston hand surgeon Nicholas Zajac (the former lacrosse player, whose own problems with women are threaded intermittently throughout the narrative) attaches Otto's mitt, whose imperfect functioning is prelude to the experiences of fatherhood and real love (as opposed to lots and lots of gratuitous sex), which finally make a man of Patrick, despite his disability. Irving presumably means all this to be a Dickensian fable of renunciation and healing, but it's a self-indulgent mishmash of let's-see-what-weird-things-I-can-come-up-with-next plotting and complacent commentary laid on by a very heavy, omniscient authorial, uh, hand. Recently Irving has been alternating his usual doorstoppers with slighter books like the miscellany Trying to Save Piggy Sneed and the memoir My Movie Business. Don't be fooled by The Fourth Hand. He's still between novels.
From the Publisher
“Irving … shows the reader the far greater value — and the inexpressible beauty — that can only flow from a loyal and enduring love.”
The Calgary Herald

The Fourth Hand is worth reading. It’s well told, fast-paced and provocative. It’ll seduce you”
The Gazette

“[W]hat The Fourth Hand and most of his other novels pull the trick off proves John Irving is one of the very finest writers alive today.”
—Jeff Gunn, The Associated Press

“Irving's latest novel, The Fourth Hand, exhibits the kind of brisk, even brutal whimsy that characterizes so many of his books.”
—Annabel Lyon, National Post

“This is vintage Irving — funny, sad, touching and, like a car wreck, impossible to ignore.”
“Irving’s brilliance rests in his ability to make the odd eventually seem ordinary, the wounded no different than the rest of us. There is sorrow, but there is also deep satisfaction.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“So weird, yes, but also funny and bracingly original. Dare we say it? Give Mr. Irving a hand.”
Chatelaine

“A touch of the bizarre has always enlivened Irving’s novels, and here he out-does himself in spinning a grotesque incidentinto a dramatic story brimming with humour, sexual shenanigans and unexpected poignancy”
“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.”
Publishers Weekly

“Using comedy, satiric social commentary and his adroit ability to tell a good yarn, Irving proffers a sweet love storywith the very serious underlying theme of human transformation”
“Marriages and fetility abound throughout this novel, characters are indeed transformed, and Irving wraps everything up, true to the comedic genre, in a neat, happy package”
The Ottawa Citizen

"Ostensibly, Irving's intention to write a sex farce seems even more determined in The Fourth Hand; but, in fact, the novel further hones his story-telling craft . . . . Despite copious copulation, The Fourth Hand possesses the eloquent simplicity of a child's story and a gravity that anchors meaning on the froth of farce . . . . His novel entertains so hugely, one is left to ask; how did such a moving dénouement slip past all that sex?"
The Independent

"John Irving is a wonderful god when it comes to creating a character. He breathes life into rounded, complex people whom you quickly learn to both like and loathe. He conjures up sympathy and empathy, warmth and despair, and all the time his pleasure in turning a sentence is visible. It is on the page, the words betraying their author's passion."
The Times

"It is a testament to Irving's narrative agility that he makes the most improbable encounters seem perfectly plausible. Precis the plot and it sounds ludicrous, read it and it unfolds with its own tender logic, as though our bizarre emotional predicaments were not deviations from the norm, but the very fabric of what it is to be 'normal' . . . . Irving is too much the craftsman to sacrifice his humane warmth to the plight of any political agenda. What he in effect offers us is a vision of our inner selves as they play themselves out within the extraordinary circus that passes for reality. The joke is not that Patrick is missing a hand, but that we are all incomplete-pieces of a jig-saw desperate to be matched. The precision of Irving's voice, the raw urgency of his style, his sly interweaving of magic and mischief-all are so resoundingly present, that one barely notices just how much they are there."
Daily Express

"Irving is, as always, hugely readable, which is the great literary virtue, without which all others are as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals (or symbols)."
The Spectator

"Irving has a literary style similar to a snowball effect: with each novel he creates symbols and develops themes to accompany those he has already accumulated. Grief, loss, abortion, amputation, sex, children, America's political history and the power of foresight are all explored here. But The Fourth Hand is essentially character driven, and the novel is brimming with extraordinary characters . . . "
Observer

"A knockabout comedy that turns deceptively and disarmingly into a hymn to redemptive love . . . Irving's novels are not just page-turners. Time and again, he forces his readers to consider important social issues-war, rape, incest, the fragmentation of the family, feminism, the culture of celebrity-in a way reminiscent of Dickens. Always, he celebrates love in unlikely settings, delighting in its least expected manifestations . . . . As ever, Irving is peerless at presenting action, writing without a wasted second. His tableaux are precisely calculated for effects, and these effects tumble through the novel."
The Guardian

"An engaging, warm-hearted novel that has much to say about the modern world's ills, yet also strikes a resounding note of hope . . . . It would certainly be hard to imagine real people quite like the ones Irving depicts. This is Irving's strength; his characters are larger than life,and while this undoubtedly makes them memorable, it also renders them perversely plausible."
Scotland on Sunday

"No one is too incidental to warrant Irving's full attention. Every minor character is as well developed as a major one and detail is his trademark. He's also articulate, clever, quirky, more than a touch profound and very funny."
The Mirror

"Patrick Wallingford may not be the most compelling of heroes, but he is a reminder that true beauty is found in our imperfections, not despite them. In him we glimpse once again the seam of decency that runs through Irving's fiction. We are all flawed, he seems to say, but within us all is the capacity for redemption. None of us is immune to suffering, but it is in the depths of vulnerability that we discover our deepest strengths."
Literary Review

"The Fourth Hand is yet another well-crafted novel from an author who is known for contrasting the ordinary with the uncommon and strange."
Women's Journal

"Irving's a wonderful story-teller, with a great appetite for life, and it's no wonder that his popularity with readers outstretches his reputation with the literary establishment."
The Tablet

"This is Irving territory: eccentric, farcical, a little grubby and sad, and-strangely-wholly believable. Irving holds up Charles Dickens as his hero. The inspiration is obvious in the way even minor characters have their technicolour moments and in the unlikely twisting and turning towards a moral centre."
Image

"John Irving is devoted to his people and his plots in a way that makes him unique among the most popular and widely read of the living American novelists. He has become his generation's Dickens."
Now

"Mr. Irving is more than popular. He is a Populist, determined to keep alive the Dickensian tradition that revels in colourful set pieces and teaches moral lessons."
The New York Times

"John Irving is never content with giving us something as meagre as a novel.... He wants us to know the whole story, everything, not just the thin slice of the world usually known as fiction."
The Times (London)

"Irving's instincts are so basically sound, his talent for storytelling so bright and strong, that he gets down to the truth of his time."
The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345463159
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/29/2003
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 7.12 (w) x 4.06 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

John Irving published his first novel at the age of twenty-six. He has received awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation; he has won an O. Henry Award, a National Book Award, and an Oscar.

In 1992, Mr. Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Earlier this year, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Biography

It was as a struggling, withdrawn student at Phillips Exeter, the New Hampshire prep school where his stepfather taught Russian history, that John Irving discovered the two great loves of his life: writing and wrestling. Modestly, he attributes his success in both endeavors to dogged perseverance. "My life in wrestling was one-eighth talent and seven-eighths discipline," he confessed in his 1996 mini-memoir The Imaginary Girlfriend. "I believe that my life as a writer consists of one-eighth talent and seven-eighths discipline, too."

Certainly, patience and stamina have served Irving well -- in both wrestling (he competed until he was 34, coached well into his 40s, and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992) and writing. His first book, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968 to respectable reviews but sold poorly. Over the course of the next ten years, he wrote two more unsuccessful novels (The Water-Method Man and The 158-Pound Marriage).

Then, in 1978, Irving hit the jackpot with The World According to Garp, a freewheeling comic saga incorporating motifs he would revisit many times over -- feminism, adultery, violence, grotesquerie, and an overriding sense of impending doom. Garp received a National Book Award nomination and became an instant cult classic. It also paved the way for a string of bestsellers, including The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meaney, and The Fourth Hand, to name a few.

While none of his novels are strictly autobiographical, Irving has never denied that certain elements from his life have seeped into his books, most notably the pervading "presence" of his biological father, John Wallace Blunt, a man Irving never knew. Raised by his mother and a stepfather he loved dearly, Irving had denied for years any curiosity about his absent parent, but the figure of the missing father haunted his writing like a specter. In 2005, he laid the ghost to rest with the publication of Until I Find You, a searing story that took shape slowly and painfully over the better part of a decade. Writing the novel also allowed the author to wrestle with a closely guarded secret from his past -- just like the novel's protagonist Jack Burns, Irving was sexually abused as a preteen by an older woman. In an eerily timed coincidence, while he was crafting the novel, Irving was contacted by a man named Chris Blunt, who identified himself as the son of Irving's biological father. Twenty years younger than Irving, his half-brother told Irving that their father had died in 1995. Although Irving was devastated by the experience, he now feels as if he is able to turn the page and move on.

In addition to his novels, Irving has also written a collection of short stories and essays (1995's Trying to Save Piggy Sneed) and several screenplays, including his Oscar-winning adaptation of The Cider House Rules. He chronicled the experience of bringing his novel to the screen in the 1999 memoir My Movie Business.

Good To Know

  • Irving struggled in school with a learning disability that was probably undiagnosed dyslexia. Today, he considers it something of a blessing. Forced to read slowly, he savored each word and literally fell in love with language and literature.

  • In a 2001 interview with the now-defunct Book magazine, Irving confessed, "The characters in my novels, from the very first one, are always on some quixotic effort of attempting to control something that is uncontrollable -- some element of the world that is essentially random and out of control."

  • Although the results have been mixed at best, film versions have been made of several Irving novels, including The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, and The Cider House Rules, which won for Irving a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. In addition, the movie Simon Birch was loosely based on A Prayer for Owen Meaney, and the first third of Irving's novel A Widow for One Year became the acclaimed film The Door in the Floor.

  • One of Irving's great literary influences was Kurt Vonnegut, his teacher and mentor at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The two writers remained close friends until Vonnegut's death in 2007.

  • Irving has two tattoos: a maple leaf (in honor of his Canadian wife) on his left shoulder, and the starting circle of a wrestling match on his right forearm.

  • The influence of Charles Dickens is evident in Irving's novels, sprawling epics with huge casts of colorful, eccentric characters and lots of complex plot points that crop up, disappear for hundreds of pages, then resurface unexpectedly. He writes voluminously and in great detail; he refuses to use a computer; and he begins at the end, writing the last sentence of each novel first. He describes himself as a craftsman and claims that he owes his success more to rewrites, ruthless editing, and infinite patience than to artistic genius.

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      1. Also Known As:
        John Wallace Blunt, Jr.
      2. Hometown:
        Vermont
      1. Date of Birth:
        March 2, 1942
      2. Place of Birth:
        Exeter, New Hampshire
      1. Education:
        B.A., University of New Hampshire, 1965; also studied at University of Vienna; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1967

    Read an Excerpt

    Chapter one

    The Lion Guy

    Imagine a young man on his way to a less-than-thirty-second event—the loss of his left hand, long before he reached middle age.

    As a schoolboy, he was a promising student, a fair-minded and likable kid, without being terribly original. Those classmates who could remember the future hand recipient from his elementary-school days would never have described him as daring. Later, in high school, his success with girls notwithstanding, he was rarely a bold boy, certainly not a reckless one. While he was irrefutably good-looking, what his former girlfriends would recall as most appealing about him was that he deferred to them.

    Throughout college, no one would have predicted that fame was his destiny. "He was so unchallenging," an ex-girlfriend said.

    Another young woman, who'd known him briefly in graduate school, agreed. "He didn't have the confidence of someone who was going to do anything special" was how she put it.

    He wore a perpetual but dismaying smile—the look of someone who knows he's met you before but can't recall the exact occasion. He might have been in the act of guessing whether the previous meeting was at a funeral or in a brothel, which would explain why, in his smile, there was an unsettling combination of grief and embarrassment.

    He'd had an affair with his thesis adviser; she was either a reflection of or a reason for his lack of direction as a graduate student. Later—she was a divorcée with a nearly grown daughter—she would assert: "You could never rely on someone that good-looking. He was also a classic underachiever—he wasn't as hopeless as you first thought. You wanted to help him. You wanted to change him. You definitely wanted to have sex with him."

    In her eyes, there would suddenly be a kind of light that hadn't been there; it arrived and departed like a change of color at the day's end, as if there were no distance too great for this light to travel. In noting "his vulnerability to scorn," she emphasized "how touching that was."

    But what about his decision to undergo hand-transplant surgery? Wouldn't only an adventurer or an idealist run the risk necessary to acquire a new hand?

    No one who knew him would ever say he was an adventurer or an idealist, but surely he'd been idealistic once. When he was a boy, he must have had dreams; even if his goals were private, unexpressed, he'd had goals.

    His thesis adviser, who was comfortable in the role of expert, attached some significance to the loss of his parents when he was still a college student. But his parents had amply provided for him; in spite of their deaths, he was financially secure. He could have stayed in college until he had tenure—he could have gone to graduate school for the rest of his life. Yet, although he'd always been a successful student, he never struck any of his teachers as exceptionally motivated. He was not an initiator—he just took what was offered.

    He had all the earmarks of someone who would come to terms with the loss of a hand by making the best of his limitations. Everyone who knew him had him pegged as a guy who would eventually be content one-handed.

    Besides, he was a television journalist. For what he did, wasn't one hand enough?

    But he believed a new hand was what he wanted, and he'd alertly understood everything that could go medically wrong with the transplant. What he failed to realize explained why he had never before been much of an experimenter; he lacked the imagination to entertain the disquieting idea that the new hand would not be entirely his. After all, it had been someone else's hand to begin with.

    How fitting that he was a television journalist. Most television journalists are pretty smart—in the sense of being mentally quick, of having an instinct to cut to the chase. There's no procrastination on TV. A guy who decides to have hand-transplant surgery doesn't dither around, does he?

    Anyway, his name was Patrick Wallingford and he would, without hesitation, have traded his fame for a new left hand. At the time of the accident, Patrick was moving up in the world of television journalism. He'd worked for two of the three major networks, where he repeatedly complained about the evil influence of ratings on the news. How many times had it happened that some CEO more familiar with the men's room than the control room made a "marketing decision" that compromised a story? (In Wallingford's opinion, the news executives had completely caved in to the marketing mavens.)

    To put it plainly, Patrick believed that the networks' financial expectations of their news divisions were killing the news. Why should news shows be expected to make as much money as what the networks called entertainment? Why should there be any pressure on a news division even to make a profit? News wasn't what happened in Hollywood; news wasn't the World Series or the Super Bowl. News (by which Wallingford meant real news—that is, in-depth coverage) shouldn't have to compete for ratings with comedies or so-called dramas.

    Patrick Wallingford was still working for one of the major networks when the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989. Patrick was thrilled to be in Germany on such a historic occasion, but the pieces he filed from Berlin were continually edited down—sometimes to half the length he felt they deserved. A CEO in the New York newsroom said to Wallingford: "Any news in the foreign-policy category is worth shit."

    When this same network's overseas bureaus began closing, Patrick made the move that other TV journalists have made. He went to work for an all-news network; it was not a very good network, but at least it was a twenty-four-hour international news channel.

    Was Wallingford naïve enough to think that an all-news network wouldn't keep an eye on its ratings? In fact, the international channel was overfond of minute-by-minute ratings that could pinpoint when the attention of the television audience waxed or waned.

    Yet there was cautious consensus among Wallingford's colleagues in the media that he seemed destined to be an anchor. He was inarguably handsome—the sharp features of his face were perfect for television—and he'd paid his dues as a field reporter. Funnily enough, the enmity of Wallingford's wife was chief among his costs.

    She was his ex-wife now. He blamed the travel, but his then-wife's assertion was that other women were the problem. In truth, Patrick was drawn to first-time sexual encounters, and he would remain drawn to them, whether he traveled or not.

    Just prior to Patrick's accident, there'd been a paternity suit against him. Although the case was dismissed—a DNA test was negative—the mere allegation of his paternity raised the rancor of Wallingford's wife. Beyond her then-husband's flagrant infidelity, she had an additional reason to be upset. Although she'd long wanted to have children, Patrick had steadfastly refused. (Again he blamed the travel.)

    Now Wallingford's ex-wife—her name was Marilyn—was wont to say that she wished her ex-husband had lost more than his left hand. She'd quickly remarried, had got pregnant, had had a child; then she'd divorced again. Marilyn would also say that the pain of childbirth—notwithstanding how long she'd looked forward to having a child—was greater than the pain Patrick had experienced in losing his left hand.

    Patrick Wallingford was not an angry man; a usually even-tempered disposition was as much his trademark as his drop-dead good looks. Yet the pain of losing his left hand was Wallingford's most fiercely guarded possession. It infuriated him that his ex-wife trivialized his pain by declaring it less than hers in "merely," as he was wont to say, giving birth.

    Nor was Wallingford always even-tempered in response to his ex-wife's proclamation that he was an addicted womanizer. In Patrick's opinion, he had never womanized. This meant that Wallingford didn't seduce women; he simply allowed himself to be seduced. He never called them—they called him. He was the boy equivalent of the girl who couldn't say no—emphasis, his ex-wife would say, on boy. (Patrick had been in his late twenties, going on thirty, when his then-wife divorced him, but, according to Marilyn, he was permanently a boy.)

    The anchor chair, for which he'd seemed destined, still eluded him. And after the accident, Wallingford's prospects dimmed. Some CEO cited "the squeamish factor." Who wants to watch their morning or their evening news telecast by some loser-victim type who's had his hand chomped off by a hungry lion? It may have been a less-than-thirty-second event—the entire story ran only three minutes—but no one with a television set had missed it. For a couple of weeks, it was on the tube repeatedly, worldwide.

    Wallingford was in India. His all-news network, which, because of its penchant for the catastrophic, was often referred to by the snobs in the media elite as "Disaster International," or the "calamity channel," had sent him to the site of an Indian circus in Gujarat. (No sensible news network would have sent a field reporter from New York to a circus in India.)

    The Great Ganesh Circus was performing in Junagadh, and one of their trapeze artists, a young woman, had fallen. She was renowned for "flying"—as the work of such aerialists is called—without a safety net, and while she was not killed in the fall, which was from a height of eighty feet, her husband/trainer had been killed when he attempted to catch her. Although her plummeting body killed him, he managed to break her fall.

    The Indian government instantly declared no more flying without a net, and the Great Ganesh, among other small circuses in India, protested the ruling. For years, a certain government minister—an overzealous animal-rights activist—had been trying to ban the use of animals in Indian circuses, and for this reason the circuses were sensitive to government interference of any kind. Besides—as the excitable ringmaster of the Great Ganesh Circus told Patrick Wallingford, on-camera—the audiences packed the tent every afternoon and night because the trapeze artists didn't use a net.

    What Wallingford had noticed was that the nets themselves were in shocking disrepair. From where Patrick stood on the dry, hard-packed earth—on the "floor" of the tent, looking up—he saw that the pattern of holes was ragged and torn. The damaged net resembled a colossal spiderweb that had been wrecked by a panicked bird. It was doubtful that the net could support the weight of a falling child, much less that of an adult.

    Many of the performers were children, and these mostly girls. Their parents had sold them to the circus so they could have a better (meaning a safer) life. Yet the element of risk in the Great Ganesh was huge. The excitable ringmaster had told the truth: the audiences packed the tent every afternoon and night to see accidents happen. And often the victims of these accidents were children. As performers, they were talented amateurs—good little athletes—but they were spottily trained.

    Why most of the children were girls was a subject any good journalist would have been interested in, and Wallingford—whether or not one believed his ex-wife's assessment of his character—was a good journalist. His intelligence lay chiefly in his powers of observation, and television had taught him the importance of quickly jumping ahead to what might go wrong.

    The jumping-ahead part was both what was brilliant about and what was wrong with television. TV was driven by crises, not causes. What chiefly disappointed Patrick about his field assignments for the all-news network was how common it was to miss or ignore a more important story. For example, the majority of the child performers in an Indian circus were girls because their parents had not wanted them to become prostitutes; at worst, the boys not sold to a circus would become beggars. (Or they would starve.)

    But that wasn't the story Patrick Wallingford had been sent to India to report. A trapeze artist, a grown woman hurtling downward from eighty feet, had landed in her husband's arms and killed him. The Indian government had intervened—the result being that every circus in India was protesting the ruling that their aerialists now had to use a net. Even the recently widowed trapeze artist, the woman who'd fallen, joined in the protest.

    Wallingford had interviewed her in the hospital, where she was recovering from a broken hip and some nonspecific damage to her spleen; she told him that flying without a safety net was what made the flying special. Certainly she would mourn her late husband, but her husband had been an aerialist, too—he'd also fallen and had survived his fall. Yet possibly, his widow implied, he'd not really escaped that first mistake; her falling on him had conceivably signified the true conclusion of the earlier, unfinished episode.

    Now that was interesting, Wallingford thought, but his news editor, who was cordially despised by everyone, was disappointed in the interview. And all the people in the newsroom in New York thought that the widowed trapeze artist had seemed "too calm"; they preferred their disaster victims to be hysterical....

    Read More Show Less

    Foreword

    1. The novel is clearly critical of the kind of news media epitomized by the footage of Patrick Wallingford ’s accident and by the “calamity channel ”in general.And yet it doesn ’t renounce TV and modern media entirely.What kind of news coverage do you see the novel advocating?

    2. How would you describe the narrator ’s tone and perspective?
    Do you think the narrative voice has a journalistic quality?

    3. What role does the circus play in the novel?Have you read any other John Irving novels in which circuses are involved? If so,how does Patrick Wallingford ’s experience with the Great Ganesh Circus –and his infamous encounter with the lion – compare to depictions of circus characters and themes in Irving ’s earlier work?

    4. How did the novel ’s portrayal of transplant technology –both the personal dimensions and the philosophical differences represented by Dr.Zajac and the medical ethicists –affect your views on these kinds of medical procedures?

    5. Hands –and Wallingford ’s “fourth hand ”in particular – represent many things in the novel.What does the hand-transplant ordeal seem to say about loss and absence?

    6. What are the turning points in Patrick Wallingford ’s life? How would you describe his development as a character?

    7. From Wallingford ’s reverie brought on by the cobalt-blue capsule in India to Otto Clausen ’s nightmarish vision in the beer truck,dreams play an important role in the novel.How would you articulate the connection between dreams and the future for these and other characters?Do you think“destiny” figures into this?

    8. E.B.White ’s Charlotte ’s Web and Stuart Little and Michael On-daatje ’s The English Patient are all carefully read and iscussed by characters in the novel.How do these books function in The Fourth Hand ?What do their readings suggest about the relationship between literature and life?

    9. Patrick Wallingford is not a devoted fan or watcher of sports events before he meets Doris and the Clausens.The Clausens are almost religious about their commitment to football and the Green Bay Packers.What does being a sports fan seem to represent in the novel?

    10. After Wallingford ’s first meeting with Doris Clausen,he develops a new sense of how becoming –or not becoming –a mother affects a woman ’s life.What do you make of this new interest?How does it relate to Wallingford ’s perceptions of the book ’s female characters –Marilyn, Mary, Evelyn Arbuthnot, Sarah Williams, the airport security guard, and Doris Clausen?

    11. We learn that Patrick Wallingford ’s favorite oxymoron is “no-fault divorce.”Why do you think he sees such irony in this phrase?How do successful marriages differ from unsuccessful marriages in The Fourth Hand ?What kind of hope, or concern, do you have for Wallingford ’s relationship with Doris Clausen?

    12. The novel draws a sharp contrast between Patrick Wallingford ’s New York and the Clausens ’Green Bay,Wisconsin,homes and their lake house.What does the Midwest –and “heading north ”–seem to represent to Wallingford?

    13. In what ways does this novel have elements of a fairy tale or fable?

    14. Would you call The Fourth Hand a love story? Why or why not?




    Read More Show Less

    Interviews & Essays

    John Irving Wrestles Fate
    From the July-August issue of Book magazine.

    When his sons Colin and Brendan were younger, if John Irving couldn't make time to drive them on their field trips, he would turn to his good friend David Calicchio, who was the only other person he trusted as their chauffeur. Irving even purchased an old Checker automobile, famously large and heavy, so that his children would be well protected if they were in an accident. Once again the father of a young child—nine-year-old Everett—Irving hasn't gotten any less protective with age. "Even with Everett, he'll only allow certain people to drive him around," says Calicchio. "That's one of his neuroses. You see it in his books, too."

    The release preceding Irving's upcoming novel, The Fourth Hand, was 1998's A Widow for One Year, in which a horrifying car accident that predates the book's main action forever alters the lives of those touched by it. And a passage from The World According to Garp, Irving's 1978 breakout bestseller, says it all: "If Garp could have been granted one vast and naive wish, it would have been that he could make the world safe. For children and for grownups. The world struck Garp as unnecessarily perilous for both."

    Throughout his work, Irving has concerned himself with the life-altering effects of chance violence; the new book includes not only a hand-eating lion, but two of the air disasters that colored the end of the American millennium: John F. Kennedy Jr.'s disappearance off Martha's Vineyard and the downing of Egypt Air Flight 990. So it comes as no surprise that the most important acquisition for Irving—whose remarkable writing career spans more than three decades—has not been glory or respectability or wealth, but protection from that perilous world for those around him. What seems to keep his active mind most fully engaged, day in and day out, is the wrestling match between the inexorability of fate and the deliberate, preventive measures one can take to battle against the chaos that lurks around every corner. This concern, he explains, stems primarily from one thing.

    "My view of the world," Irving says, "was intrinsically informed by having children and my fear for what happens to them." Irving became a father when he was just twenty-three, still an undergraduate in college. That early adoption of a paternal outlook turned him into the man—and the writer—he would become. A pediatrician once told him that he was approaching an illness of one of his children all wrong. The problem with Irving, the doctor said, was that he thought he was driving a car—he didn't understand that the situation was more like driving a boat. "I don't like driving a boat; I don't like turning the wheel and then waiting to see what happens," he says.

    "The characters in my novels, from the very first one, are always on some quixotic effort of attempting to control something that is uncontrollable—some element of the world that is essentially random and out of control," he says.

    The author exerts that same effort, concentrating on doing what he can to fight the inevitable: A hugely popular author, he rails against the irritation of publicity tours ("The thing about being a writer is you're always expected or asked to do something other than just write. No one wants to accept that that is what you do," he says). While so many writers lured to Hollywood don't live up to their potential, Irving found what might well be labeled his greatest success in Tinseltown: For thirteen years, he protected The Cider House Rules from Hollywood, eventually winning an Oscar in 1999 for his own screenplay adaptation. Irving claims his authorial strength is in his rewrites; as he wrote in 1996's collection Trying to Save Piggy Sneed, "My life in wrestling was one-eighth talent and seven-eighths discipline. I believe that my life as a writer consists of one-eighth talent and seven-eighths discipline, too." (It's worth noting that this writer who wrestled competitively until he was thirty-four was voted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992.)

    Irving is, finally, the kind of person who provides detailed directions to visitors so that they won't get lost, and he presses his young assistant to leave early enough to avoid driving into New York City in the dark. Irving even makes sure that his family eats well. While there may be uncontrollable elements all around, the best course of action—Irving seems to say again and again—is not to be overwhelmed by them.

    Take The Fourth Hand, which begins as a sexual farce—protagonist Patrick Wallingford, a handsome babe magnet and star TV reporter for a reprehensible unnamed all-news network, is divorced because he can't say no to women. For its first part, the book is primarily about Wallingford's inability to act decisively: He's kind of an anti-Bartleby who, rather than saying "I would prefer not to," says OK all the time. But by the book's turning point, he's gained the ability to stop acquiescing, and is turning toward a much greater degree of self-control—and, in the bargain, toward true love.

    Irving the writer has been evolving along with Irving the man. Calicchio has been reading Irving's novels in manuscript form since The Water-Method Man, his 1972 sophomore effort—Calicchio was an adjunct professor at Windham College, where Irving once taught—and says that though he loves Irving's novels, he doesn't share Irving's affection for Charles Dickens or with the author's nineteenth-century plot devices and structures. So, when it comes to The Fourth Hand, which is a leaner, less convolutedly orchestrated book than some of Irving's earlier ones, Calicchio considers it a good thing that his friend is gaining some distance from what he jokingly refers to as the "Dickens nonsense."

    "I like to think he's moving away from the nineteenth-century style," Calicchio says. And while he feels that may mean Irving is losing "a certain epic quality," that's not bad news, either. "I find [it] cleaner, much less frenetic," Calicchio says, adding that the new book is also "still funny as all hell." He recalls talking to Irving at one point while the writer was working on the book, asking him what he was doing and being told, "Well, I've got this crazed man running along the Charles [River] picking up dog turds with a lacrosse stick and throwing them at people rowing their boats."

    That section—with its poo-hunting hand surgeon and similarly obsessed dog—is one of many in The Fourth Hand that are patented John Irving. The bizarre and the grotesque share space with the recognizably familiar. It's not just in Irving's fiction, either: It's in his world. Take one not-so-shaggy dog story, for instance: Dickens, Irving's chocolate labrador, was still a puppy when she accompanied the family on a trip to their cabin on Lake Huron last summer. While playing there, Dickens ate a clam, nearly severing her jugular. As she was recovering, tubes for irrigation were placed in her neck; every time she barked, blood and pus squirted out. Whenever visitors stopped by, the author and his son would purposely try to get the dog to bark. Irving thinks that the story is hilarious, and in his telling, it is.

    "John has a wacky way of looking at the world," says producer Richard Gladstein, who helped Irving shepherd The Cider House Rules onto the silver screen. "The things that occur to him [make] for an incredible journey."

    Imitation of Life
    If Irving's penchant for mixing outlandish humor with unexpected violence is characteristic, his tendency to include what appear to be thinly disguised biographical details in his novels is a trademark. Twenty-one years ago, Irving told Rolling Stone about a woman reviewer who was so certain Irving and T. S. Garp (who lost part of his ear to a dog) were interchangeable that, upon meeting the writer in person, she pushed his hair back to see if he was all there.

    "I occasionally like to put things in a novel which I look upon as little friendly notes to my readers," Irving says now. Whether it's the birth date of Bogus Trumper, the protagonist of 1972's The Water-Method Man (which is the same as Irving's) or the oeuvre of T. S. Garp or A Widow for One Year's Ruth Cole (which are both reminiscent of Irving's), such details are, Irving notes, "a way of saying to people who've really read me closely, and over time, 'This is a little something for you.' "

    Perhaps that's why so many readers often assume that Irving, an adopted son, is looking for his "real" father—his novels often feature characters whose fathers or mothers have died or absconded.

    Irving's biological father, John Wallace Blunt, divorced Irving's mother, Frances, before John was born. Blunt disappeared from his son's life and went on to become a hero during WWII. And Frances remarried, this time to Colin Irving, a Slavic languages and literature major at Harvard University and a Russian history professor at Philips Exeter Academy. John Wallace Blunt Jr. became John Irving. But Irving the novelist says that his background isn't what attracts him to those themes (which are found in 1974's The 158-Pound Marriage, 1978's The World According to Garp, 1985's The Cider House Rules, 1989's A Prayer for Owen Meany, 1998's A Widow For One Year, and even The Fourth Hand). Irving says he simply uses those themes for the same reason that Charles Dickens did: because orphans make for good stories.

    "I have never lost a single night's sleep wondering or imagining who my biological father is," Irving says. "I passed up several opportunities I could have had to meet him or confront him. I wasn't interested. Even my friends were apoplectic that I was so disinterested." For Irving, whose childhood was uneventful and whose parents loved him, the idea of spending a lot of time searching for one's biological roots is pointless. "It's not gonna do you any good. Unless you're looking for something to attach your victimhood to, which is a common ailment of the contemporary time." Having said all that, Irving mentions that his next novel—to be started in July—will feature a famous actor in search of, yes, his father. This will no doubt mean more critical speculation about the return of parental themes, as well as about Irving's concern with celebrity.

    Irving's fame has become a major issue in his life. It is, after all, one thing that's very hard to wrestle into submission, although he would very much like to. "Celebrity isn't something you can control," he says. He tries to protect his kids from the glare of his own spotlight, and he continues to guard his family's privacy from the press. Ever since Garp vaulted onto the bestseller lists, Irving has had an uneasy relationship with fame. He's done hard time on a raft of magazine covers and television shows (the span of his career is illustrated by the fact that he's done The Merv Griffin Show as well as Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher). And his novels—especially the past two—lay into the media for its uneven treatment of celebrities. Irving writes in The Fourth Hand, "There were only two positions the media could take toward celebrities: worship them or trash them." In Irving's case, that about sums it up. "Sometimes he loves the media," says Calicchio. "Sometimes he wishes they'd leave him the hell alone."

    Second Chances
    Ensconced in a beautiful, cedar-shingled home in southern Vermont, Irving, his wife Janet and their nine-year-old son Everett lead a private life, in a town where Irving is just another local citizen. His circle of Vermont friends (mostly writers) is a close one. The home includes a restaurant-size kitchen, a home gym (with, of course, a wrestling mat) and separate offices for the writer, his wife and their assistant. Irving generally begins his writing day at eight in the morning and doesn't stop until four in the afternoon, when he works out. Afterward, he usually prepares dinner, with a menu that always includes healthy but tasty dishes. ("He makes a chickpea stew that's to die for," says his assistant, Kelly Berkson.) Irving is the family's sole chef—the "absolute one and only," as Janet puts it.

    "There's an old saying," says Calicchio, who gave Irving a few culinary pointers when he was first learning his way around a kitchen: "If you want to control the house, control the kitchen. Of course, his first wife—she controlled the kitchen."

    Irving married Shyla Leary in 1964; the couple was divorced in 1982. "Certainly having children, being a father, being part of a family was a very personal thing to me," Irving says. "That was a long first marriage. I was married for eighteen years. And my relationship with those grown boys was always very tight."

    Irving calls the years after his divorce a "troublesome" time in his personal life. But in the summer of 1986, the forty-four-year-old met Janet Turnbull, a thirty-two-year-old literary agent from Toronto. Although the two didn't see each other again for three months, they corresponded by mail. Their first official date was a case of "love at first sight," Janet says now. "He's very much like the person who would write those books," she says of the man she married in 1987, "which means he's very sensitive and very funny and very serious."

    Irving's personal happiness seems to have rubbed off a great deal on his writing of recent years. It seems more buoyant, less mannered, less—perhaps—controlled. The Fourth Hand, in particular, deals with people's willingness to change, to take a second chance in life. It is also a love story. "I saw that shift myself," says Janet. "I like to think I had something to do with it, obviously." (She certainly had something to do with the new novel—she and John were watching television one night, sitting through a segment on a hand transplant, when she asked, "What if the donor's widow demands visitation rights with the hand?")

    "There are only two ways you can feel, I suppose, when you have a second marriage and start a second family," Irving says. "You either feel you are lucky to have had that chance or you feel you're a damn fool to have made the same mistake again. And I feel I'm very lucky to have had the opportunity."

    Other opportunities have reflected that same willingness to cooperate, to roll with life's punches, to accept some of the inevitability while still trying to guard against its harshness. When Irving worked with a like-minded team in Hollywood, he walked away with an Oscar for his troubles. Though he retains a great deal of control in the movie-making arena (he approves script, cast and director), producer Richard Gladstein says, "John is not used to showing things to people and having them make changes. [But] to John's credit, he fully realized that in order for a good film to be made, he would have to allow the director to become the author of the movie." Irving dedicated the new book to his friends Gladstein and The Cider House Rules director Lasse Hallström. Gladstein confirms that The Fourth Hand is already on its way to becoming a movie, which Irving will script and Hallström will direct. "All of us shared a like sensibility," Gladstein says, recalling the trio's first effort. "We [functioned as] a unit that we're thrilled to re-create."

    Time Passages
    Time's effects on Irving have been good, both economically and creatively. He no longer worries about money matters, and writing novels seems to have gotten easier for him. In the days before Garp attained bestseller status, Irving told friends and colleagues that if he ever became a self-supporting writer, he would work eight or nine hours a day. But when the opportunity developed, he found himself unable to go the distance. "I was so disappointed in myself," Irving says. "I hadn't trained myself to write eight hours a day." So even though he no longer had to work as a teacher, Irving was still writing only two or three hours a day—the same amount he had spent each day working on his first four novels, back when he was a young husband and father, as well as a student (and later, teacher) at the University of Iowa. Then, rising at five a.m., his writing time had been limited to the first two hours in the morning, before Colin awoke.

    But shortly after that initial disappointment with his post-Garp work habits, Irving's endurance training kicked in. Like a runner or weight lifter, he increased his stamina, reaching a point where he had trouble turning off his typewriter for the day. "I had to make myself stop," Irving says, laughing. "It's been that way ever since. [And] I can say, with absolute authority, that any one of the last five novels, beginning with The Cider House Rules—including A Prayer for Owen Meany, A Son of the Circus, A Widow for One Year and The Fourth Hand—is better made than the first four. Including The World According to Garp. I say that the way a tailor knows a suit of clothes. You know how many times you've taken the seams out; you know that the rear pockets are shit; you know you've fixed this part because it wasn't working very well. The reason for that was I didn't have the concentration until I was a full-time writer."

    Nowadays, Irving seems to have the whole package. His writing output has picked up—a writer who once produced one novel every three or four years, in the past seven, he's published three novels (Circus, Widow and The Fourth Hand), a memoir (My Movie Business, about his work translating The Cider House Rules to the screen), a collection of memories, short fiction and essays (Piggy Sneed) and two screenplays. "The one thing that being a screenwriter and a novelist has done is eliminate excuses," says Irving. "I don't just have a work in progress—I have three or four works in progress." He even has some control over his irksome celebrity, being the kind of heavyweight who can say no to his publicist more than most of his colleagues. But, athlete that he is, Irving recognizes the importance of staying loose. After all, there's only so much protection anyone can afford his loved ones. "His kids," Calicchio points out, "have always had a great degree of freedom." They're protected, but they're free. "And he sits there and suffers," Calicchio says, "because he wants them to experience life." (Dorman T. Shindler)

    Read More Show Less

    Reading Group Guide

    1. The novel is clearly critical of the kind of news media epitomized by the footage of Patrick Wallingford’s accident and bythe “calamity channel”in general. And yet it doesn’t renounceTV and modern media entirely. What kind of news coverage do you see the novel advocating?

    2. How would you describe the narrator’s tone and perspective? Do you think the narrative voice has a journalistic quality

    3. What role does the circus play in the novel? Have you read any other John Irving novels in which circuses are involved? If so, how does Patrick Wallingford’s experience with the Great Ganesh Circus –and his infamous encounter with the lion –compare to depictions of circus characters and themes in Irving’s earlier work?

    4. . How did the novel’s portrayal of transplant technology –both the personal dimensions and the philosophical differences rep-resented by Dr. Zajac and the medical ethicists –affect your views on these kinds of medical procedures?

    5. Hands –and Wallingford’s “fourth hand”in particular –represent many things in the novel. What does the hand-transplant ordeal seem to say about loss and absence?

    6. What are the turning points in Patrick Wallingford’s life? How would you describe his development as a character?

    7. From Wallingford’s reverie brought on by the cobalt-blue capsule in India to Otto Clausen’s nightmarish vision in the beer truck, dreams play an important role in the novel. How would you articulate the connection between dreams and the future for these and other characters? Do you think “destiny”Figures into this?

    8. E. B. White ’s Charlotte ’s Web and Stuart Little and Michael On-daatje ’s The English Patient are all carefully read and discussed by characters in the novel. How do these books function in The Fourth Hand? What do their readings suggest about the relationship between literature and life?

    9. Patrick Wallingford is not a devoted fan or watcher of sports events before he meets Doris and the Clausens. The Clausens are almost religious about their commitment to football and the Green Bay Packers. What does being a sports fan seem to rep-resent in the novel?

    10. After Wallingford’s first meeting with Doris Clausen, he develops a new sense of how becoming –or not becoming –a mother affects a woman’s life. What do you make of this new interest? How does it relate to Wallingford’s perceptions of the book’s female characters –Marilyn, Mary, Evelyn Arbuthnot, Sarah Williams, the airport security guard, and Doris Clausen?

    11. We learn that Patrick Wallingford’s favorite oxymoron is “no-fault divorce.” Why do you think he sees such irony in this phrase? How do successful marriages differ from unsuccessful marriages in The Fourth Hand? What kind of hope, or concern, do you have for Wallingford’s relationship with Doris Clausen?

    12. The novel draws a sharp contrast between Patrick Wallingford’s New York and the Clausens ’Green Bay, Wisconsin, homes and their lake house. What does the Midwest –and “heading north”–seem to represent to Wallingford?

    13. In what ways does this novel have elements of a fairy tale or fable?

    14. Would you call The Fourth Hand a love story? Why or why not?

    Read More Show Less

    Customer Reviews

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    ( 42 )
    Rating Distribution

    5 Star

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    3 Star

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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 42 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted January 12, 2007

      If this is Irving's 'worst' book, I can't wait to read the others

      It took me less than 24 hours to read this novel. I was deeply affected by the emptiness is most of the characters lives. The novel was shocking and bare, I thought it was great. I, admitedly, felt cheated in the middle of the book when time seemed to be rushed a bit, and in the last third of the book where Dr. Zajac's storyline ended. Before reading the novel, I read most of the online reviews, which usually I rely heavily upon. This time I'm glad I decided to read the book anyway. Like I said in the headline, if this is what the other reviewer's call Irving's 'worst' book, then I can't wait until I read some of the more recommended of Irving's novels.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted March 17, 2004

      Enjoyable

      I found this title to be enjoyable, it is not by any means, Irving's best novel, but it is still good. It is extremely interesting, the characters are interesting and compelling. I flew through this book and had no problem getting through it. I enjoyed the commentary on the manipulation of truth in TV News programs, Irving's points are well thought out. If this wasn't Irving then it would be a good book, but from Irving its not his best. If you're an Irving fan, read it--judge it for yourself.

      1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted March 18, 2004

      LESSON TO BE LEARNED

      I have to admit, as a John Irving fan, this is not his best book. But the reason I am recommending this book and the reason why I do really like this novel is because there are some really important life lessons to be learned from reading this novel. The story is a quirky, entertaining, and a little unbelieveable, but the characters are complicated, real, quirky and enchanting. If you are looking for a great John Irving book to read, I suggest The World According to Garp.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted September 7, 2002

      From lion man to pussy cat

      An entertaining and witty book. Although I had difficulty identifying with Patrick and Doris in the beginning, the author successfully develops the plot making them credible in the end. The supporting roles of Dr. Zajac, Irma, Angie, and, last but not least, Medea are worthy of an Oscar.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 24, 2013

      I've been a big fan of Irving since The World According to Garp.

      I've been a big fan of Irving since The World According to Garp. But this is bay far the least interesting book so far from an otherwise great writer. But even a so-so Irving book gets 3 stars.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted May 20, 2012

      Pethetick

      Why dose it cost $ when it is so stupid!?

      0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted July 20, 2010

      This could NOT have been written by John Irving

      I have read most of Irving's material to date and have, obviously, had a high regard for his work. In fact, when assigning security codes on many internet sites I had always listed him as my favorite author! I am going to re-visit those sites and change that nomenclature immediately. However, I remain unconvinced that he actually wrote this book. I am rather, believing that he has given a researcher, an author wannabe, probably female, an opportunity to contribute most of this material. And, it is obvious that in the period that he (they) wrote this (late 90's, early 2000's) he was going through his last hot flashes of sexuality. His past works have used sex primarily as a sideline enhancement to his stories (perhaps excepting 'Garp') but in 'The Fourth Hand' that is ALL THERE IS! It is poorly conceived, developed and presented. His characters have always been interesting and meaningful to the story but not in this novel. There is just nothing here and I am exceedingly disappointed.

      0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 19, 2004

      Not so good!

      I was so hoping that this book would be good. I loved 'The Cider House Rules' and 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' and was expecting 'The Fourth Hand' to be something on par with those two books. Disappointingly, it wasn't. I never quite got into the characters and the plot.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 14, 2004

      Uggg !

      Whew...this reading was work. Sorry Mr. Irving, I'm not impressed.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted April 6, 2004

      PAINFUL!

      This book is truly atrocious. As always, John Irving's main charachter is attractive and highly sexed, with little else to offer the world. I thought the book was bad after 200 pages, and was surprised that it managed to become absolutely and painfully WORSE as the book wound down. Save your time and skip this trashy tale.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 10, 2004

      An enormously disappointing new novel from a great American author

      What John Irving does with such exquisite aplomb is wrap a perfect balance of intimate and sincere characters and absurdism in a grand Dickensian shell. 'The Fourth Hand' is just the comedy, and while it's at times funny, this novel comes off as maudlin and ridiculous, more a Farrelly brothers comedy than a Christopher Guest mockumentary.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 2, 2004

      Painful!

      I found this book to be a horrible disappointment. I forced myself to finish in the hopes that it might get better. I was mistaken.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted September 24, 2003

      I wonder how many readers finished this book.

      This is a rambling, pointless, boring waste of paper.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 14, 2002

      what a disappointment!

      I was enamored and exhilarated by 'A Widow for One Year,' somewhat touched by 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' but completely disappointed with 'The Fourth Hand.' The plot is sketchy and uninteresting; I find the more and more Irving I read, the more familiar I am with with his repetitive characters. Wallingford (in this novel) shares the same personality traits as Ted from AWFOY. (However, I can't find the Marion character, which may have made the book less interesting.) Anyways....not a complete waste of time, but, 'I've had better.'

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 12, 2002

      One of Irving's Best!

      If your John Irving favorites include 'A Widow for One Year' and 'A Prayer for Owen Meany,' then you'll love 'The Fourth Hand.' It's one of those books you can't put down. Irving can make the most unbelievable seem realistic.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 29, 2002

      Large Dissappointment

      John Irving is one of my favorite authors and I have loved all his books until now. Although "The Fourth Hand" is still masterfully written in the John Irving style seen throughout all his novels, this book completely lacks a plot. I kept waiting for something significant to happen but to no avail. Even though the characters were well described, they never came together to create a story. I was so disappointed that John Irving could produce such a poor novel. If you are looking to read a John Irving book, this is not the one, it's not even comparable to A Prayer for Owen Meany, The World According to Garp or Cider House Rules.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted May 25, 2002

      Wish I could give this a 4.4

      My second Irving novel after World According to Garp (which should have been enough to hook me). Irving's writing style can get somewhat verbose, but is distinct and clearly talented. I'm always satisfied by the premise of a great looking guy, with the look that lets him get away, having to deal with a major physical disability. Great book!

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 2, 2002

      Laugh out loud funny

      This novel was my first John Irving. The book, especially the first chapter was extremely humorous. The imagery Irving uses, combined with his sarcasm makes fro a laugh out loud experience. Nonetheless, after reading the Hotel New Hampshire, I unfortunately realize how dry the plot of The Fourth Hand was. In addition, the speakers cynical attitude was funny, yet disheartening. Still, a great read, if your up fro a laugh.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted February 24, 2002

      You Can't Go Wrong With John Irving

      If you're looking to read something entertaining and enlightening, you just can't go wrong with ANYTHING written by John Irving. His storytelling is great and his writing style is unpretentious and clear. I recommend The Fourth Hand without reservation.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 7, 2001

      Short but sweet, Irving scores again

      John Irving's unique writing style is at work here as he takes his protagonist, Patrick Wallingford, through a gamet of physical and emotional places, from having his left hand bitten off by a lion, to losing his transplanted hand, to his moving love affair with Doris Clausen. Despite the tawdry and exhausting sexual descriptions that at times threaten to devour the deeper storyline of Patrick's quest for a lasting love, Irving never allows you to wander too far from Patrick's evolving heart. It's funny and strange at times, but among Irving's most powerful novels. On the down side, 313 pages was just not enough.

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