“The Fourth Hand” by John Irving (Random House, 2001)

The Fourth Handstarstarstar

John Irving has to be one of the most gifted writers, creating unique characters that can never be forgotten, and he does it once again with The Fourth Hand.

Our main character is Patrick Wallingford, a very unusual person and certifiably doomed in that Irving way.  And while Irving’s past books may have roared from start to finish, The Fourth Hand does the same right up to the last fifty pages or so, where it slows to a crawl, and everyone conveniently lives happily ever after.

Patrick Wallingford has his hand bitten off by a lion in India while doing a segment for an American news channel.  He wants to get as close as possible to all the action, since that is his job, and ends up losing his right hand instead.  A few years later, after a successful website advertising the need for a donor hand to test a new hand transplant technology, a donor gives one, having recently committed suicide.  The wife of the donor, Doris Clausen, flies to Massachusetts with the hand where she wants to “certify” the receiver.

Sadly, it does not stick, and after six months the hand needs to be removed.  Nevertheless, a strange fourth, phantom hand seems to remain that Wallingford swears he really feels, especially when he gets excited.  At the same time, a relationship develops between Wallingford and Clausen: she sort of falls in love with for he once “held” all that remained of her husband, while he is besotted with her, but is unable to realize how important she is to him.

The result is a very strange yet extremely entertaining novel that contacts a cast of fantastic characters brought to life through the zany and perverted mind of John Irving.

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Originally published on February 4th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.