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The Fourth Hand

The Fourth Hand


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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

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The Best Irving Yet

Tremendous! Fabulous! Wonderful! There are not enough superlatives to describe John Irving's latest work, The Fourth Hand. It is simply exquisite, made more so by sparse and tight writing. The World According to Garp established Irving's reputation as a serious writer. It also expressed a central theme: "In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases." With possibly one exception, Irving has explored the ways in which men and women can find meaning and hope in the face of the inevitability of death in all of its forms. Death is definitely present in The Fourth Hand: The death of John F. Kennedy, Jr, his wife, and his sister-in-law underlies a turning point in the narrative. Yet another turning point occurs with the destruction of the EgyptAir flight whose pilot, we now know, deliberately destroyed his plane and passengers. Death is present in more microcosmic ways, as well: the central character, Patrick Wallingford, loses his left hand to a lion in India (shades of Son of the Circus)....a devoted wife (and frustrated mother) in Wisconsin loses her drunken husband to a gun accident....when the man's hand is transplanted to Wallingford's stump, both he and Mrs. Clausen lose it to rejection. Yet, as Wallingford muses, the hand departed because it had done its work. It had freed both Patrick and Doris, the Wisconsin widow, from the addictions that had circumscribed their lives. Patrick's addiction took shape in a vapid life as a TV disaster commentator who attracted and bedded women almost offhandedly (to make a pun). Doris Clausen's addiction was to a narrowly defined life with a good man who drove a beer truck and lived to watch the Packers play. Before this lovely little novel is finished, both envision a larger world. That world will end in death, but that inevitability will be relieved and ultimately redeemed by the presence of love. The last time John Irving came close to anything this profound and moving was in A Prayer for Owen Meany. In a review, I said that Owen Meany (the book and the character) represent Irving's ongoing search for a valid principle of transcendence. Introduced in his early novels, that search was addressed in Garp. In Hotel New Hampshire, we learned that one response to the transience of life is lunacy and sorrow. "Keep passing the open windows" was the mantra of the dysfunctional family in question. Then, Irving seemed to be saying that the best one could hope for is not to kill oneself in the face of the absurdity and pain that mark our days. It would be interesting to re-read Hotel in the aftermath of the events of 11 September, 2001. By Owen Meany, Irving has discovered that a death-bound world is also redeemed in self-sacrifice. "I am a Christian because of Owen Meany," says John Wheelwright, all the more after learning that Owen Meany had given his life to save innocent people from a terrorist attack (hmm, maybe we should re-read this one, too). With The Fourth Hand, Irving'

Lessons Learned from the Human Comedy

Mr. Irving has always been a master at presenting life in the most outlandish and poignant scenarios. But with this book, Mr. Irving, more than in any of his other writings, not only describes the human comedy of life but also gives insight into how the reader can learn from it. He has interjected at least three life situations into his story line so subtly that the novice might miss them and just enjoy the book for one heck of a "hoot." Patrick Wallingford hates his life, socially and professionally. Mr. Irving shows his gradual transformation from a "one nighter" guy into someone who accepts responsibility. The second human life drama deals with the death of Doris Clausen's husband and her painful process of letting go. That process takes an "Irving" twist of not letting go of part of the body, the hand. The current French movie (one of the best to come along in years), Under the Sand, deals with this human tragedy of letting go and is a good contrast to Mr. Irving's book. A third scenario is dished out in poignant antidotes to illustrate moral wrong. Mr. Irving "slam dunks" the press and their "lynch mob" by illustrating the news media's intrusion into people's lives during times of crisis and the "crash and burn" media followers (those "body-spotters") getting stirred into a frenzy over dismembered dolls floating in the water after an airline crash. This book is definitely worth a slow read and reflection every step of the way.


Patrick Wallingford is a New York television journalist reporting a story from India. During a televised segment, Patrick has his hand eaten off by a lion.In Boston, world renowned hand surgeon Dr. Nick Zajac is trying to deal with his monstrous wife - after their divorce - , make peace with his six-year old son Rudy, keep the family dog Medea (named after a sorceress who killed her children), that suffers from an illness called "dietary indiscretion", from being put to sleep, and be the first doctor to do a hand transplant.And, in Wisconsin a woman wants to give her dead husband's hand to Patrick...the only problem - her husband is not dead yet!`The Fourth Hand' is a vintage Irving novel; while at first being a satire, and very funny, it then delves much deeper to examine sex, love, marriage, grief, loss, and ultimately redemption. As the novel begins to open each of the characters lives, the reader is held in a trance, not knowing what shenanigans will befall, or how each of them will become further entwined. And, all the while Mr. Irving keeps a steady hand having each new outrageous situation funny, and believable.John Irving is the BEST at what he does; he takes a "what if..." question, and then explores it to it's fullest, with hysterical humor, eccentric characters, and heartfelt tenderness leading to an enlightening look at the power of second chances, and succeeding.Sure to be a classic, `The Fourth Hand' will skyrocket to the top of the bestseller list's. Do yourself a favor, buy the book, set aside a few hours, and enjoy.A MUST read!Nick Gonnella

Two Thumbs Up for The Fourth Hand.

As one of Irving's shortest novels, this is a speedy read, but don't mistake the brevity for lack of content. The Fourth Hand starts out as a comic sex farce and ends as a melancholy study of loss and longing. Inbetween there are hilarious looks at the world of the instant media, medicine and the Green Bay Packers. As a side note, fans will note the book is dedicated to the producer and director of the movie version of The Cider House Rules...The Fourth Hand, coming to a movie screen near you??

Anothr fascinating work

Drop dead gorgeous hunk Patrick Wallingford is covering the Great Ganesg Circus in Junagadh, India following up on the death of a male trapeze artist and the fight over using safety nets. When the lions begin roaring, Patrick takes his microphone and sticks it inside the cage only to have a hungry beast sever his left hand and wrist while on international TV. Patrick knows that his chances of becoming an anchor ended with the maiming of his hand even if he received tons of sympathy. However, a new opportunity surfaces when eminent surgeon Dr. Nicholas Zajac decides on performing the first hand transplant, using Patrick as his patient. Packer fan Doris Clausen offers the hand of her healthy and living spouse because she wants the beautiful Patrick whole. However, she demands hand visits and he impregnate her in exchange for the extremity. Meanwhile instead of calm before he tries the impossible, Nicholas deals with his own personal nightmares that could impact the success of the first hand transplant operation. THE FOURTH HAND is an entertaining condemnation of media excesses using loss, broken relationships and all under the news spotlight. The story line is humorous though at times is undecided between acrimonious hyperbolic satire and realistic condemnation. Still, in the world according to John Irving, this second chance redemption tale is an emotional story that tackles the reader in a blitz and never lets go until atonement comes for one and all including a wristlocked overzealous reviewer.Harriet Klausner

Edition Details

Publisher:Random House
Lowest Price:$3.59
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