The Four Fingers of Death
This summer, it’s been all about genre. So many of the “big books”—from The Passage by Justin Cronin to Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story—play with sci-fi, fantasy, monsters, and the occasional robot. Moody is right there in the thick of it with this new one, which begins in 2024, when hack writer Montese Crandall novelizes a remake of the B-movie horror flick The Crawling Hand. Crandall tells us all about himself over 60 pages of introduction, after which we gain entry to his novel, divided in two: The first is a series of diary entries from astronaut Jed Richards, aboard the first manned mission to Mars, the second tells of a severed hand (the only remnant left of the Mars mission) crawling across the country.
Both science-fiction and sci-fi send-up, The Four Fingers of Death, is exactly the kind of book that drives critics crazy, because it’s unclear what the project is (in fact, in an irony-deaf moment, Publishers’ Weekly called it “desperately and exceedingly annoying”). There’s loads of political parody: The U.S. has fallen behind the Sino-Indian economy, so the Mars mission appears to be a secret attempt to gather weaponized bacteria; Technological advances only further expose distances between people; Wealth division and environmental degradation has altered the planet beyond recongnition.
But we think Moody’s up to something a little more sophisticated. Like Paul La Farge’s Facts of Winter, in which the author’s epilogue tells a personal story in the way Crandall’s intro does, the bulk of the novel acts as 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.