I’ve read eight John Irving novels so far, out of thirteen (if I’m not mistaken), and I just finished The Fourth Hand on the 25th of this month. So far I have read, in this order, Last Night in Twisted River, The Cider House Rules, The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, A Prayer for Owen Meany, In One Person, A Widow for One Year, and of course The Fourth Hand. Mr. Irving has also written a children’s book, A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound, which I would like to get my hands on. It is my goal to read them all.
I haven’t made an effort to read Mr. Irving’s body of work in any particular order for a couple of reasons. One is that the first book of his that I read was, at that point, his most recent. Also, so far I have been more or less [self-]constrained by what was currently available to me at the local library. The only near-exception to that is that I had been anticipating the release of In One Person for quite a while, and arrived at the library one day prepared to fill out an interlibrary loan request for it, only to discover that a copy of it had arrived that very morning and was ripe for the picking. Thus, I have so far not found it necessary to hunt anything down.
(As a side note, I get an obscure but very satisfying pleasure in being the first patron to check out a new book from the library. I know I’m not the first person to read the book in general, but being the first to read that copy gives me a nerdy little thrill. It’s even better when I put in a request for the library to purchase a particular book that they lack, and then they actually do so – not only am I then the first person to read that copy, but it exists at the library from that point on directly because of me! That’s not such a bad legacy to leave, if you think about it.)
For several of Mr. Irving’s books, I have read the plot summary on the book jacket and not been interested, and so went on to choose something else. As the supply of unread novels dwindled (and as my increasing appreciation for his writing fueled a desire to read everything he’d written), I ended up taking these home anyway; despite my initial reservations about some, they have all turned out to be worth my time. I have learned to not pay quite so much attention to what the book is said to be about, since really, his books are so character-driven that the plots almost seem incidental.
For some reason, I haven’t written a review of his latest work, In One Person, yet. I will probably reread all of his novels eventually, and then I will write one. There seems to be a short window of time after I finish a book in which I feel capable of writing a decent review. If the book isn’t fresh in my mind, the impressions aren’t strong enough to translate into a cohesive piece about it.
Unfortunately, since The Fourth Hand wasn’t one of my favorites, I did not delve too deeply into reviewing it. Also unfortunately, since I’ve read another entire novel between now and when I finished The Fourth Hand, I’m unlikely to do a very good job elaborating on what I had originally written, which is this:
Impeccably written, as always, but I just could not get into this one as much as Mr. Irving’s other novels. The premise was zany and interesting, but I just never warmed up to the characters enough to care a great deal about what they were going to do next. The exception for me was the hand surgeon, who was endearingly eccentric, but his character remained on the sidelines for much of the book.
Despite that, I continue to be in awe of (and inspired by) Mr. Irving’s undeniable talent in weaving stories of complex lives and relationships, executed with truly superior skill and finesse.
While honest and to the point, that review is far too brief to give anyone much of an idea of what the book is about or whether they might want to read it. Therefore, this post has really just become a ramble about how much I admire John Irving.
I would love to be the kind of writer Mr. Irving is, if I ever manage to write a novel. He is one of those rare authors who does not try to be a writer, but truly, simply, is a writer. It’s just so clearly what he’s meant to do. He is a master of the craft.