The Four Fingers of Death
By Rick Moody
Little, Brown and Company, Hardcover, 9780316118910, 736pp.
Publication Date: July 7, 2010
List Price: $25.99*
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Montese Crandall is a downtrodden writer whose rare collection of baseball cards won't sustain him, financially or emotionally, through the grave illness of his wife. Luckily, he swindles himself a job churning out a novelization of the 2025 remake of a 1963 horror classic, "The Crawling Hand." Crandall tells therein of the United States, in a bid to regain global eminence, launching at last its doomed manned mission to the desolation of Mars. Three space pods with nine Americans on board travel three months, expecting to spend three years as the planet's first colonists. When a secret mission to retrieve a flesh-eating bacterium for use in bio-warfare is uncovered, mayhem ensues.
Only a lonely human arm (missing its middle finger) returns to earth, crash-landing in the vast Sonoran Desert of Arizona. The arm may hold the secret to reanimation or it may simply be an infectious killing machine. In the ensuing days, it crawls through the heartbroken wasteland of a civilization at its breaking point, economically and culturally--a dystopia of lowlife, emigration from America, and laughable lifestyle alternatives.
The Four Fingers of Death is a stunningly inventive, sometimes hilarious, monumental novel. It will delight admirers of comic masterpieces like Slaughterhouse-Five, The Crying of Lot 49, and Catch-22.
THE FOUR FINGERS OF DEATH is Rick Moody's ninth book. He has received the PEN/Martha Albrand Award, the Addison Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Paris Review's Aga Khan Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He lives with his family in Brooklyn, NY.
"A rollicking romp... improbable and thoroughly entertaining, courtesy of master storyteller Moody...Brings in dozens of characters...and not a one of them wasted; as he gamely intertwines their destinies, he switches mood, voice register and generally has a grand old time twitting the conventions of science fiction and literary narrative alike...A smart, fun satire--Jonathan Swift in space, with twists befitting Vincent Price."
"Rick Moody's latest novel is a riotous gloss on an already forgotten flourish of presidential theatre: George W. Bush's 2004 announcement that the United States would send a manned mission to Mars...Moody imagines a 2025 NASA expedition to the Red Planet and conjures a not-so-distant future that is less a forecast of the world we are soon to inhabit than a fantasia drawn from early-century jitters about national demise....Moody's comic tour de force encompasses scavenger survivalists, careerists NASA functionaries, a weak and peripatetic president, and a DeLillo-esque mass spiritual movement called the omnium gatherum, whose desert conclave supplies the backdrop for the denouement....Animated by Moody's inventive energies and dark wit, the novel is neither gloomy nor grim, preoccupied though it is with infection, contagion, and death....Like any American writer worth his salt, Moody traffics in ambiguous symbols, and the diseased arm possesses the fraught doubleness of an emblem out of Hawthorne, a writer at the center of his 2002 memoir, The Black Veil....Conceptual wizardry and resonance are not reconciled with ease, nor do many writers attempt such a rapprochement, so it is here, in the intersection of narrative excess and genuine feeling, that Moody is at his most daring and arresting."
"Wacky, wonderful imaginings."
"Like Vonnegut, Moody packs his novel with weird New Age pseudo-cults, odd philosophies, bizarre science experiments and one-off characters who chatter at you for a dozen pages before getting strangled by a severed arm with four fingers."
"Combines Kurt Vonnegut's masterly black humor with the apocalyptic scenery of B-movies and the postmodern playfulness of Neal Stephenson."
"In The Four Fingers of Death, Rick Moody's rollicking shaggy-dog novel (a mixed breed of science fiction and satire), a sorry writer bangs out the novelization of a campy 60s horror film, while a severed human arm, the sole survivor of an ill-starred mission to Mars, creeps across the desert."
"700-plus pages of wacky, wonderful imaginings: there's a rare collection of baseball cards, three space pods inhabited by nine American astronauts and a lonely human arm which crawls through civilization."
"This is Moody uncorked, slyly going back to the wordy, toothsome, 19th century novel, with a science-fiction twist."
-Los Angeles Times
"For readers who enjoy rambling, picaresque adventures with a satiric edge (think: Thomas Pynchon), it's...a blast."
"Set in an America even bleaker than the '70s of The Ice Storm Moody's latest is a comic sci-fi epic....His tale is filled with digressions that reveal a sad future we may soon inherit."
-San Antonio Express-News
"The novel is peppered with gems such as, "there were no authorities any longer, just men with nicer outfits," which explains with breathtaking economy a crumbling society in 2025. The story's cumulative verdict is that of a scary B-movie: The end is near. Because of the times we live in, the message is convincing and sobering. Moody has tapped into the fear that America has lost its way, and his...approach is brilliant."
-St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"The book is entertaining and often poignant, probing the limits of technology, consciousness, and language in the face of grief."
-The New Yorker
"Comic, grim, tender and masterful....It's a sly science-fiction tale loosely sprung from the 1963 horror film The Crawling Hand.... The voyage and time on the Red Planet, 15 years from now, make for a suspenseful, sometime harrowing tale.... After the tension of outer space, Moody delivers a broadly satirical release on Earth.... He runs delightful riffs on, among other things, duct tape, jet packs, the stars over the desert and the ever-changing occupants of a campus house that eventually takes in the founder of an alternative-lifestyle group called omnium gatherum.... Highlight[s] Moody's gift for being as thoughtful as he is entertaining."
"As pulpy and trashy as The Four Fingers of Death might sound, it's oddly something sweeter and more profound. It's a book about love and longing husbands grieving over dying wives, disconnected parents and lost children, sadness and confusion. Consider just this one gorgeous line: "Love was the hole as well as the thing that repaired the hole." It's sad, pitch-perfect and lovely, and it came from the talking chimp who has fallen in love with a human laboratory assistant.... The near future in The Four Fingers of Death has plenty gone wrong, but it reads more like the satiric comedy of David Foster Wallace's maximalist novel, Infinite Jest. Both are long, packed with elaborately inventive plotlines, digressions, explanations and multiple characters. The future's a mess, but there's plenty to say about it."
"Mr. Moody's best writing in years. It is The Ice Storm in space....masterful, certainly matching, even at times surpassing, Kurt Vonnegut, to whom The Four Fingers of Death is dedicated, and who is the book's closest progenitor.... It is fun to read."
-The New York Observer
"We would have waited another five years for this book, at once not your typical Moody (it's fun, for starters) and total hallmark Moody (think The Ice Storm on a molecular level)."
-Time Out New York
"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. And when he wants to write a gorgeous paragraph, he delivers as you know he can, even when he's still spoofing."
-The New York Times Book Review
"There's loads of political parody...but we think Moody's up to something a little more sophisticated....The bulk of the novel acts as a metaphor for Crandall's everyman issues of fear of losing his wife, and insignificance in an economy that's moved on from his skill set. Sure, 700 pages is a long metaphor, but it's sharp and funny enough to make it worthwhile on both levels."
-Time Out Chicago
"In his dense, provocative and often hilarious ninth book, Rick Moody takes a sly, Swiftian approach to sci-fi, serving up a goofy B-movie-style opera.... His energy and sheer inventiveness make The Four Fingers of Death an original and exhilarating read."
"Densely bizarre and endlessly playful."
-New York Metro