two-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
49-Nov-Dec-2010
By: 
Rick Moody
user_rating: 
0

A-The Four Fingers of DeathRick Moody's audacious, innovative oeuvre, which includes four novels, three novellas, two short story collections, and a memoir, has earned him critical acclaim and a loyal cult following. Reviewed: The Diviners (3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2005), Right Livelihoods ( 4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2007).

The Story: In this futuristic novel-within-a-novel, set in 2025, down-on-his-luck author Montese Crandall, trying desperately to support his dying wife and her gambling habit, challenges the mysterious D. Tyrannosaurus to a game of chess. The winner secures the potentially lucrative job of novelizing a remake of the 1960s B-movie classic, The Crawling Hand. The central story is the novelization itself, which recounts the ill-fated mission to Mars that led to the deaths of nine astronauts and the reanimation of a disease-infected, severed hand missing its middle finger. As the murderous hand wreaks havoc across the Sonoran Desert, scientists and government officials race against time to capture it and unlock its death-defying secrets.
Little, Brown. 729 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780316118910

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Complex and imaginative, TFFOD (to mimic its narrator's love of acronyms) is a zesty satire, a sprawling epic with one eye on today's headlines and another eye (biometric eye, no doubt) on the future. ... At times the novel seems as if it should be titled The Long Digression." William J. Cobb

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Moody's powers of invention, his ease in his own prose, his ability to develop interesting characters--in short, his enormous gifts as a writer--are on full display here. ... If he had cut all the jokes--if the book were half as long--the comic effect would still be there, and the reader wouldn't feel so belabored, as though there's a good comedian on stage who refuses to exit stage left." Clancy Martin

Oregonian 2 of 5 Stars
"And we're off ... reading Rick Moody's wild and rambling pastiche of a novel, dedicated to the memory of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., that's more than 700 pages in length, and one that, unfortunately, in the end taxes the reader's patience and respect for its author." Jim Carmin

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 2 of 5 Stars
"The book regularly rambles on self-indulgently, experimentally and to no real point." Holly Silva

San Francisco Chronicle 2 of 5 Stars
"Authority, playfulness, linguistic prowess! Moody has these powers in spades. And so it's been a daunting disappointment to read this new novel." Alan Cheuse

Boston Globe 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Because the book is ostensibly written by wannabe novelist Crandall, what we read is either A) intentionally stilted, bloated, and digressive because that reflects Crandall's particular style and talents, or B) ditto, because that reflects Moody's particular style and talents. ... The distended prose obscures the best parts, like the captain's blog of the Lord of the Flies-like Mars voyage, and the side plot of Morton, the chimp, coming into human consciousness." Ethan Gilsdorf

Wall Street Journal 1 of 5 Stars
"If nothing else, The Four Fingers of Death provides further evidence for the inverse relationship between literary theory and literary quality. As a ‘project'--that's what the author calls the book in his acknowledgments--it succeeds; as a novel, it's harebrained and largely unreadable." Sam Sacks

Critical Summary

A "brick-thick, rock-‘n'-roll-dystopian, fast-and-loose-and-ambitious-as-Pynchon novel" (New York Times Book Review), Moody's latest boldly exhibits its author's talents, including his cheeky creativity, linguistic acrobatics, and eccentric characters. However, this unwieldy fusion of SF satire and postmodern metafiction fell short of the critics' expectations. Nearly all agreed that the novel, at nearly 750 pages, is too long, and they also complained that it is too calculated, too repetitive, too self-indulgent, too rambling, and too clever for its own good. Strained attempts at humor and intentionally poor writing rounded out the collective protest. Though Moody's admirers will likely overlook these weaknesses and enjoy this "grab bag of sardonic fun" (Dallas Morning News), other readers may want to steer clear.

Also by the Author

The Ice Storm (1994): In Moody's best-known novel, two neighboring families in suburban Connecticut fall apart as they struggle with the turbulent social and political climate of the early 1970s.