Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Fourth Hand by John Irving

Image from Pinterest

I've read, and loved, several John Irving novels. They aren't easy reads and the subject matter is often heavy (incest, infidelity, physical deformity.) I've found I can't fully appreciate an Irving novel until I've completely finished it and taken a few days to process the whole thing.

I don't want to give away too much because I want you to read this book, but I do want to give you a brief summary: A man loses one of his hands in an accident and when he receives a hand transplant, a relationship develops between him and the donor's wife. No room for weirdness or heavy subject matter there, right? Ha!

In typical Irving fashion, this story is bizarre and made me uncomfortable at times. It has stuck with me more than the rest of his, though I'm not totally sure why. The story is an investigation into the power of grief, love, and all the "What ifs" we ask when facing tragedy.

What I love about Irving's characters is the same thing that can make his novels tough to get through. His characters often make choices that have me slapping a palm to my forehead. However, the fact that they make questionable choices, makes them more realistic than people in most novels. There isn't always a happy ending or redemption. Sometimes the characters badly suffer the consequences of their actions, even when they had good intentions. I liked the characters in this book a great deal, even when they weren't always likable per se.

Even though this story seemed impossible, it still felt believable. I could understand why things happened the way they did. This is what makes me fall in love with a novel, and John Irving has mastered the skill.


  1. Ah, at last, one of your recommendations that I *have* read. I agree with you about Irving, he follows the what if path down the oddest and darkest places, and I love him for it. I once read a few of his one after another and it was too much. You are spot on that we need time and space afterwards to process.

    Debs Carey

  2. I haven't read this one of his; might have to put it on my to be read list. I did read A Prayer for Owen Meany. I do agree with your assessment of Mr. Irving's pick of subject matter.


  3. I haven't even heard of this one (not that I'm the expert on John Irving or anything). Having read A Prayer for Owen Meany, and hearing you describe this book, I can just say that this guy has an interesting internal life he leads.

  4. I've never read any John Irving, but I've been meaning to. I have one of his books in my closet that I want to read one day. I picked up a hardback copy of one of his books--Last Night in Twisted River--back when Borders was going out of business. I bought a bunch of books back then and many I still have yet to read.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out