Greg Zimmerman's Reviews > In One Person

In One Person by John Irving
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Nov 27, 15

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Read from May 23 to June 01, 2012

In many ways, In One Person is the prototypical John Irving novel. It's populated with a folksy cast of characters who all seem to keep secrets from each other (but not maliciously), it takes place in New England and there's lots of wrestling, and the story itself sort of has its own mythology which the plot buildings upon to make for a satisfying conclusion.

And, as you've probably heard or read if you're an Irving fan, this is Irving's "most political novel since The Cider House Rules." But it's political without be preachy. Indeed, the message is simple: Be tolerant of those who are different from you.

The story is of Billy Abbott, a bisexual man trying to make his way through the second half of the twentieth century. The first half of the novel is about Billy as a teenager in 1960s small-town Vermont, as he begins to understand what his "crushes on the wrong people" -- including simultaneous crushes on the town librarian Miss Frost, who herself has a secret, as well as the most popular boy in his school, wrestler, actor, and bully Kittredge -- mean. The unhappy resolutions to these two situations, the full effect of which isn't known until the end of the novel, is what sets in motion Billy's adult life. He goes to Europe and dates women. He deals with the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, watching many of his childhood friends die, and he publishes several novels, fictionalizing the "plight" of LGBT people. Though Billy is mostly at peace with who he is, how so many different desires can reside in one person, he easily recognizes how others like him are tormented -- and he wants to be helpful to them.

But amidst the relative seriousness of the story given its subject, there's a lot of Irving's signature humor here, too -- Irving's dialogue is often hilariously non-sequitur and some of Billy's misunderstandings about sex are really hard not to giggle at. (He wonders if vaginal sex will be like "having sex with a ballroom" when compared to the man-on-man sex he's used to -- this is a rather explicit novel, to be honest, and not for the squeamish.)

In One Person will never be my favorite Irving novel -- indeed, it's probably only about in the bottom half of the mid-tier of his novels. Still, a so-so John Irving novel is better than 75 percent of all other novels, in my humble view. So if you're a huge Irving fan like me, you'll probably mostly enjoy this, too. I'll give it 3.5-4 stars.
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