Format: Trade Paperback, 352 pages
Publisher: Vintage Canada
ISBN: 978-0-676-97393-8 (0-676-97393-0)
Pub Date: May 14, 2002
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The Fourth Hand asks an interesting question: “How can anyone identify a dream of the future?” The answer: “Destiny is not imaginable, except in dreams or to those in love."
While reporting a story from India, a New York television journalist has his left hand eaten by a lion; millions of TV viewers witness the accident. In Boston, a renowned hand surgeon awaits the opportunity to perform the nation’s first hand transplant; meanwhile, in the distracting aftermath of an acrimonious divorce, the surgeon is seduced by his housekeeper. A married woman in Wisconsin wants to give the one-handed reporter her husband’s left hand – that is, after her husband dies. But the husband is alive, relatively young, and healthy.
This is how John Irving’s tenth novel begins; it seems, at first, to be a comedy, perhaps a satire, almost certainly a sexual farce. Yet, in the end, The Fourth Hand is as realistic and emotionally moving as any of Mr. Irving’s previous novels – including The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and A Widow for One Year – or his Oscar-winning screenplay of The Cider House Rules.
The Fourth Hand is characteristic of John Irving’s seamless storytelling and further explores some of the author’s recurring themes – loss, grief, love as redemption. But this novel also breaks new ground; it offers a penetrating look at the power of second chances and the will to change.
“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”
“[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.”
“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.”
“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?"
"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."
"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."
"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)."
"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 . . . "
"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."
"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."
"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."
"The Fourth Hand is yet another well-crafted novel from an author who is known for contrasting the ordinary with the uncommon and strange."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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
About this 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 Academy Award. Mr. Irving lives with his family in Toronto and Vermont.
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