The Fourth Hand

Publisher: Vintage Canada

“Imagine a young man on his way to a less-than-thirty second event — the loss of his left hand, long before he reached middle age.”

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.


Chapter one

The Lion Guy

Imagine a young man on his way to a less-than-thirty-second event — the loss of his left hand, long before he reached middle age.

As a schoolboy, he was a promising student, a fair-minded and likable kid, without being terribly original. Those classmates who could...
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1. The novel is clearly critical of the kind of news media epitomized by the footage of Patrick Wallingford’s accident and by the “calamity channel” in general. And yet it doesn’t renounce TV and modern media entirely. What kind of news coverage do you see the novel advocating?

2. How would...

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“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” The Gazette

“[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 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.” Chatelaine

“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

"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." The Times

"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)." The Spectator

"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. " Observer

"A knockabout comedy that turns deceptively and disarmingly into a hymn to redemptive love." The Guardian

"An engaging, warm-hearted novel that has much to say about the modern world's ills, yet also strikes a resounding note of hope." Scotland on Sunday

"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

"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