"The Fourth Hand" is quintessential Irving with its exploration of longing and loss, its exuberant cast of eccentrics and obsessives, its extraordinary, convoluted plot and its chilling reminders of the sudden lethal violence of twentieth century America. Unlike many of his other books, it is not about a writer, but about a television journalist for a twenty four hour news channel. Patrick Wallingford loses his hand to a lion while reporting a trapeze accident at the Indian circus which figured in "A Son of the Circus", and the book follows his subsequent career, the history of his failed transplant, his growing love for the widow of the donor of his temporary new hand, and his resulting spiritual transformation. This sounds very solemn, but as ever Irving seamlessly mixes the serious, the moving and the outrageously comic, at times even the farcical, and the novel is effortlessly and compellingly readable. The author's recent involvement with film making, however, (which led to an Oscar for "The Cider House Rules" screenplay) and the linguistically superficial nature of Wallingford's own employment are consciously reflected in the style, which is much sparer and terser than in Irving's previous novels, the paragraphs shorter, and the whole book only reaching 300 pages, which for Irving is very short. The implied critique of the morality, integrity and intentions of "disaster" newscasting is devastating. "The Fourth Hand", unlike "Garp" or "A Widow For One Year", does not achieve the cathartic total immersion of the reader. It is not Irving's finest novel, but it is a good deal better than practically anything else around at the moment. Read it!