This review is tough to write because I liked “The Four Fingers of Death,” the new novel by Rick Moody. But I didn’t like it THAT much. If I had been the editor of this book, I would have made many cuts and changes. Otherwise, “The Four Fingers of Death” is okay. I believe you can take it or leave.
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I’m always looking for something new and interesting to read. I’ve always got my ear to the ground. I learned about Mr Moody’s latest work last summer by reading a mediocre review of it in the San Francisco Chronicle. What caught my eye was that the reviewer compared Mr Moody to Richard Brautigan and Kurt Vonnegut. I thought that was interesting. So I decided to read the book.
The novel is dedicated to Kurt Vonnegut. You don’t see that everyday.
This is Mr. Moody’s latest novel in a long and successful career. I’ve never read anything by Mr. Moody before “The Four Fingers of Death.” His birthday was not long ago. Garrison Kellior (sic) mentioned it one morning on “The Writer’s Almanac.”
I liked his book but I’d sure make a lot of changes if I could.
“The Four Fingers of Death” is way too long. 725 pages is a lot to ask from a reader. I’m sorry, but I am not a speed reader. I like to read a book the old fashioned way - one page at a time. Reading is an investment of time. 725 pages is a lot to ask from anybody. Mr. Moody’s book includes both an unnecessary “Introduction” and “Afterword.” 81 pages in all. 81 pages that really have nothing to do with the story of the “Four Fingers of Death.” Nothing at all.
But it’s still a pretty good story. And when this story is good, it’s very good.
But when it drags, it really drags. The book is just too long. And sometimes the book is kind of weird and a little silly.
I just didn’t really feel any Brautigan or Vonnegut within a country mile of this storyl.
The story is set only 15 years in the future (2025). Three capsules with three astronauts each are on their way to Mars. Once (and if) they arrive alive on the surface of Mars, they will create the first human occupation of a plant other than Earth.
They land. Before long, all but three of the astronauts are murdered or diseased: the only survivors include the parents of the first human child born on Mars, and Colonel Jeb Richards. Colonel Richards finally escapes. Alone.
Does this sound like a comedy to you? It does to Mr. Moody. “The Four Fingers of Death” is a comedy.
It shouldn’t be comedy. But it is. That’s another thing I’d change bout the book: I’d make “The Four Fingers of Death a Death” a straight-up science fiction novel. Not a comedy. The book tries to be both. There’s even a talking chimpanzee and a deadly severed arm in the story. What more could you ask for?
Mr. Moody’s descriptions of the lonely flight to Mars and the living conditions of the survivors once they arrive are nothing short of startling. Compelling. Thought provoking. I wouldn’t change a word. But I think there are all sorts of little things in the story that have nothing to do with the ending and that really never push the story ahead. I’d cut all that too.
"The Four Fingers of Death” by Rick Moody needs an editor like it needs a tourniquet.