Book Review: The Fourth Hand by John Irving

The Fourth HandThe 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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  1. interesting thoughts about the Kindle.

  2. So glad to read your post! I don't have a Kindle, and don't know if I want one. I'm just so old fashioned, as books are disappearing, it seems I want to hold on to them more! I think they are a part of our history. So many moments reading....maybe one day, I will want a Kindle, you make it sound desirable.

    About the review, I do think we can have happiness, if we want. Maybe not all the time, but most. Your post makes me happy always.

  3. Back when I could read a novel, I read Irving. Now back to blogs :)

    Aloha from Waikiki

    Comfort Spiral


  4. The Fourth Hand is one of my favorite books, period. It really spoke to me.

    I love my Kindle. My wife bought it for me for my birthday last year. I still read a mixture of library books, owned books (I have a huge backlog) and Kindle. Oftentimes I'll check a book out in the library and if I like it and the price is right I'll buy it on the Kindle. I like reading on the Kindle better than I like reading the physical book. I just read and "click" to the next page and soon I'm into the story (if its good) and not even conscious that I'm reading.

    Bless you, and all others, who teach people to read. What a gift you are giving.

    (Sorry I'm so wordy)

  5. you're one step ahead of me in technology. I still hold my books in my hand and write on their!

  6. I like John Irving's books, but I haven't read this one. I'll have to look into it.
    I also enjoyed hearing about your Kindle. I haven't gotten an ebook for my iPad yet, but I really should.

  7. This sounds pretty good!

  8. I got an I-pad from my daughter Thyme for my birthday and it allows me to read books as well. It's amazing what one can do with it.

  9. I haven't read anything by Irving in a long time. I have a Kindle too and love it. Thanks for the review Sandy, I think you are so generous with your time, and your knowledge.

  10. I am still debating about whether or not I want a Kindle! I can read books on my Droid and that makes me happy! Soooo...the dilemma continues!

  11. I love John Irving- quite a fan- this one looks good. I also like your description of your Kindle- I am not there yet- I still prefer the old-fashionedness of books.

  12. I have many John Irving books I like his writing but have not read this book
    I will have to look into it.
    Thanks :)


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