David's Reviews > In One Person

In One Person by John Irving
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's review
Jul 28, 2012

really liked it

This was ultimately a very absorbing book. It didn't start out that way for me. The writing here is heavily embellished with italics, parentheses, hyphens and semicolons. This has long been Irving's style, and he has always been particularly fond of italicization, but it seems to be taking on a life of its own. For me it made for ponderous reading and interrupted the flow of the narrative for the first few chapters. How thankful I am that I stuck it out. Of the nine novels I've read by this author, this is one of my favorites.

I've had a change of heart regarding the predictable people, places and things that pepper vitually all of John Irving's works: wrestling, abortion, sexual awakening and diversity, prep schools, prostitution, bears, Vienna, Vermont and Amsterdam. The endless recycling of these themes used to strike me as bordering on unimaginative and obsessive. I was wrong about that. The best authors have always had the sagacity to write about what they know, and Irving knows these subjects intimately. Van Gogh seldom painted without yellows and blues on his palette but that hardly made him a lesser artist. Irving's favorite "colors" are used in altogether new and lovely ways here.

Irving writes with great compassion and sensitivity about the terrifying, devastating advent of the AIDS epidemic. I found that to be the novel's most affecting section. He vividly brings back what it was like to be in the midst of that plague; when staying alive meant watching large numbers of friends and acquaintances die horribly. Survival for many of us was a fickle state of grace and we were filled with fear, hope, guilt and confusion. That time is reflected here quite realistically. There is, however, one surprising and unfortunate series of errors that takes place related to the medical details of HIV/AIDS. It isn't something that would trip up the average reader but it was a real disappointment to me.

AIDS was first used as a descriptor of this syndrome in the fall of 1982, before the cause had been identified. In 1983, French scientists discovered "Lymphadenopathy Virus" (LAV). By the spring of 1984 it was classified as HTLV-3 and, by 1986, reclassified as HIV-1. To have a character die of this disease before Christmas of 1981 while those around him are knowledgeable about its viral cause is jarring. There is also discussion of IV fluconazole which was not available until 1990. Poetic license, perhaps, but incorrect. Were a novelist to write about military recruitment for Vietnam and describe The Draft as taking place in 1965, there'd be a very big outcry of dismay. This is my little peep of dissatisfaction. Irving sites Abraham Verghese in his list of acknowledgments, an incredibly knowledgeable and apt resource, but seems to have been led astray regarding these particular facts.

These quibbles aside, I liked the book a lot and think it rivals "Garp" and "Hotel New Hampshire".
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Margaret Thanks for this wonderfully thoughtful and considered review, David - and beautifully written as well. ("A fickle state of grace..."...wish I'd said that...) As you probably saw, I had a bit of a struggle with Last Night In Twisted River, and I'd been thinking maybe I was kind of done with him, but your comments on this one make me want to try again. He's such a great storyteller when he's on his game. (And btw my bet is that Verghese gave him absolutely accurate information and Irving chose to manipulate it for his own narrative purposes. A disclaimer might have been nice, just to let Verghese off the hook!) Anyway - I've put it on the list!

David Oh Margaret, you just made my day. Yours is high praise indeed. Here's hoping I haven't drawn you into another frustrating experience with Irving. If I don't really like "Twisted River", we'll know we're both still in synch!

message 3: by Sus (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sus Perfect description of the John Irving universe.

David Susanne wrote: "Perfect description of the John Irving universe."

Susanne, thank you. I am so glad you liked it. We both clearly like his writing!

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