Book Review: The Fourth Hand by John Irving

Ratings for reviews will appear above the fold, while the review itself will appear below the fold to avoid spoilers for anyone that wants to go into it with a blank slate.

Jean-Paul’s rating: 2/5 stars

This book is completely forgettable.  I know this because I was 30% into the book before I realized that I had already read it.

You know how it is.  Women just want to have sex with you.  You just accept it.  What else are you supposed to do?

Sound familiar?  Not to me either.  But that is the life of Patrick Wallingford.  He doesn’t actively pursue women; women actively pursue him.

Patrick works as a reporter for a 24-hour news network.  Someone dies stupidly and Patrick is there.  Such an event occurs in India and Patrick is there.  A circus performer has died while trying to catch his wife who had fallen from the trapeze.  This will make great television!  While trying to get extra footage for the story, Patrick gets too close to the lion cage and, whap, there goes his hand down the gullet of a lion.  This will make GREAT television!

Patrick is now “the lion guy”.  The loss of his hand, if anything, makes him even more desirable to women.  One such woman is Doris Clausen.  She is married and would like a baby.  No luck so far.  She feels sorry for poor Patrick and his missing hand.  She thinks that her husband, Otis, should donate his hand to Patrick if he, Otis, should ever die.

Guess who dies?  Patrick gets Otis’ hand.  Doris gets Patrick’s baby.  Tit for tat.  Except that Patrick happens to fall in love with Doris.  Hilarity ensues.

Ok, there really isn’t much hilarity.  John Irving novels are usually incredibly compelling.  The characters are interesting introspections into the human psyche.  None are ever “real”, but real enough to be believable.  That can’t be said of “The Fourth Hand”.  Everyone in the book is just bland with strange extravagances.  The only person I think I would like to continue reading about was the makeup girl who played a very minor part.

That’s not the only failing of the novel.  The topics covered are also not very compelling.  There is some criticism of the way our modern media functions, but there’s not much to say.  Everyone knows it sucks.  Everyone knows why it sucks.  It’s a very simple subject.  You don’t need to write a novel about it.

It’s hard for me to give a bad review to a John Irving novel.  He has written many of my favorite novels: “A Prayer for Owen Meaney”, “The Cider House Rules”, “The World According to Garp”, etc.  Maybe this book is better than I think, but I just hold him to higher standards.  Two times through, though, and there still isn’t a lot there.  Everyone gets it wrong sometimes.  Let’s just hope that this is Irving’s only one.