Book Review: The Fourth Hand by John Irving
The Fourth Hand by John Irving
The Fourth Hand, John Irivings 2004 bestseller, is the story of a talking head who works for a TV version of the National Enquirer. What is sordid, outrageous, and not really worthy of our attention is the stuff of the network for which Patrick Wallingford reports.
His own maiming while by a lion in India while he is reporting a story about the circus industry makes him the subject of his own network's reporting. He becomes The Lion Guy, One-Hand.
He also becomes the subject of a medical experiment in hand transplantation that places him in the company of one Doris Clausen, whose recently decease husband's hand becomes Wallingford's third hand for a little while.
The encounter with Mrs. Clausen effects Wallingford in ways he could not have imagined at that point in his fast-paced, high-profile, completely insubstantial point in his life. Wallingford, a shallow, thoughtless womanizer (a good looking guy who does not seduce but is seduced over and over again), realizes, thanks to Mrs. Clausen, that he wants more than anything to be happy. The only way to be happy is to be genuine.
Getting to that point requires changing himself. The Fourth Hand is Wallingford's journey from Mrs. Clausen and back to her again. Along the way, Wallingford stops asking for permission to make his life and be happy and takes the chances that make claiming happiness possible.
Happiness is possible even in the unlikeliest of circumstances if you make up your mind that happiness is possible--even in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Even for real people who have messed up their lives beyond belief and demonstrated their worst qualities in outrageous ways. If you want it, happiness is yours.
While the events in Wallingford's life seem to be maddeningly random, there nevertheless seems to a plan that drives his life amid the plane crashes and other catastrophes that shape the course of his life. Does he move through a pattern laid out before him without any control over the outcome, or does the deep desire for a genuine experience of happiness impel him forward in ways he never completely understands? Is there a goodness inside him that claims him, or does he claim it?
It might not matter.
This is the first book I read on my Kindle, which I purchased online Christmas after I saw the one my daughter received for Christmas. I was taken by how clear and beautiful the screen is. I was taken, too, by the beautiful screen savers that take form all by themselves.
The Kindle makes me think of the living pictures in the Harry Potter movies. In a delightful way, the text on a Kindle seems to be alive--perhaps because the Kindle makes it easy to connect with others reading the same book or to jump out of the book and into the online world for a while. I don't know. But the Kindle doesn't let me forget that the universe is alive, vibrant and vibrating; nothing is still or changeless. This idea and the potential it suggests--that texts are living things that engage us and change us if we let them--reminds me of why I love to read and love to teach reading.
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