The Fourth Hand

*NOTE: This and other early reviews were written on a variety of different sites, and were pulled together here. They remain unedited.

After reading a lot of the reviews, I don't think John Irving's 10th book got a fair shake (commence groaning now). While not as densely beautiful as The World According to Garp or my personal favorite A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Fourth Hand is a light, refreshing, accessible work that carries enough humor and character to make it a worthy addition to Irving's string of releases.

Patrick Wallingford is a cable news personality frustrated with the way television news seems to cater to anything but the news. Too good-looking for his own good, his inner life parallels the trajectory of his chosen profession until the fateful day his hand is bitten off by a hungry lion during a story about a fallen trapeze artist in a circus in India (Son of the Circus, anyone?). His decision to have a hand transplant maneuvers him into place for a wild and ultimately redeeming ride when the wife of the deceased hand donor demands visitation rights once the hand is attached.

The book weaves its spell in tiny flourishes, examining the obsessions and quirks of three different characters: Patrick, Doris, the Green Bay Packer fanatic and wife of the former owner of Patrick's hand, and Dr. Zajac, the starved, lonely surgeon who performs the operation. Irving takes numerous swipes at tele-journalism, but also sets it up to mirror Patrick's empty life of one night stands and disaster assignments until the two literally combine and he becomes his worst nightmare - the kind of story he loathes covering.

All the characters are tied together not only by the plot, but by their wishes and desires to connect with children - the children they have, or the children they want to have. Books play an important part as well; while not necessary, I'm glad I read and was still relatively familiar with E.B. White's Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web, as well as Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient.

Overall it's one of John Irving's shortest books, more of a quick dip in the lake than a swim across the ocean. But that doesn't make it any less enjoyable, or refreshing for that matter. I wouldn't rank it in my top 3 John Irving books, but it's certainly not his worst either. Solid effort.