- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleThe 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)