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A New York Times bestselling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love—tormented, funny, and affecting—and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences.

"His most daringly political, sexually transgressive, and moving novel in well over a decade" (Vanity Fair).

Winner of a 2013 Lambda Literary Award

Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character of In One Person, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a "sexual suspect," a phrase first used by John Irving in 1978 in his landmark novel of "terminal cases," The World According to Garp.

In One Person is a poignant tribute to Billy’s friends and lovers—a theatrical cast of characters who defy category and convention. Not least, In One Person is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself "worthwhile."

Topics: Bisexuality, Transgender, Sexuality, Sex, Vermont, Small Town, 1950s, Friendship, Coming of Age, Family, First Person Narration, LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS, Love, New York City, San Francisco Bay Area, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Lust, Parenting, Male Author, American Author, Contemplative, Heartfelt, Realistic, and Social Change

Published: Simon & Schuster on
ISBN: 9781451664157
List price: $11.99
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Started out a bit slow for me but eventually drew me in to the point where I had to find out what happened next. Three more cheers for Irving on this one.more
All of the classic Irving moves are satisfying: quirky family and townsfolk, beloved wrestling coach, dark but also nostalgia-filled prep school setting, just-short-of-traumatic sexual initiation, frequent interruptions in the characters' lives by the march of American history/culture, etc. But this is SUCH a project novel, and as a result, it begins to feel like Irving is only introducing new characters in order to have them break the sexual mold in some perfunctory way. Oh how I wish he would stick to childhood stories, where he remains unsurpassed.more
I'm a big fan of John Irving. I love his slightly offbeat characters and the contrasts he draws between them. In One Person was vintage Irving, but definitely not my favourite. I couldn't identify with the power Kettredge had over both William and Elaine, but I loved Miss Frost. I think the story wasn't as tightly written as usual...for the first time, I noticed just how long one of John Irving's novel was.more
After finishing John Irving’s latest book, "In One Peron", I was filled with great sadness. The sadness of saying goodbye. Typically, after finishing an Irving book the "goodbye" means having to live behind all the wonderful characters and the gripping story that accompanied me throughout the book. This time the "goodbye" has an entirely different meaning.Irving is one of my favourite authors. Some of his books (most notably, "A Prayer for Owen Meany") are the best novels I’ve ever read. However, his most recent books – "Until I Find You" (2005), "Last Night in Twisted River" (2009) and now "In One Person" (2012) – are a disappointment. Painful as it is to admit this to myself, Irving has lost his magical touch."In One Person" is the life story of Billy Dean, from his teenage years in the 1950s until he’s about 60. Billy grows up in the New England town of First Sister, Vermont, living on the campus of an all-boys boarding school. He never met his father, and his conservative, stern mother will not divulge any details about the man she fell in love with all those years ago. Other dominating characters in young Billy’s life are his grandfather (an amateur actor who prefers acting female roles), his stepfather Richard, and the local libraraian with the big hands, Miss Frost. It is his infatuation with Miss Frost that helps Billy discover his bisexuality. Billy is attracted not only to Miss Frost but also to Kitteredge, the leading member of the school’s wrestling team. Unlike the librarian, this attraction remains one-sided.Aside from bears, almost all of Irving’s usual themes are present in "In One Person": New England, boarding schools, wrestling and coaching, intra-family intimate ties, single motherhood, marital infidelities, Vienna, etc. (Perhaps the homosexuality theme of this novel supplies the "bears" theme from another angle…) But despite the familiar settings of Irving’s beloved novels, "In One Person" fails to rise to the test. The story is dull and the characters, despite their colourfulness, are too predictable. The frequent use of parentheses, an Irving technique to communicate directly with the reader, becomes very tiresome after the first few chapters. And even though by now we are all used to Irving’s explicit language, some parts of this book descend to new depths of profanity. A couple of times I imagined Irving as the kindergarten boy who says "bad words" because he enjoys watching the shocked expressions of the adults.A couple of weeks ago, writer Philip Roth announced his retirement from writing. For the sake of preserving my fond memories of his novels it is with great sadness that I recommend for Irving to follow in Roth’s footsteps.more
Irving’s new book is reminiscent of his earlier works (The World According To Garp, Hotel New Hampshire) and for fans of Irving this is a good thing. It is about an elderly bisexual looking back on his life, and provides insight into the coming of age of the gender ‘questioning’ kids in a small private boy’s school. Full of quirky characters ala John Irving. I especially appreciated the section on the early days of the AIDS epidemic and the horrific and tragic impact on the gay and bi community. Well read by the narrator.more
This is a fantastic book and was a delight to read from beginning to end, even when it went into stories of very difficult times I still remember too well. Funny and sensitive and courageous and just so masterfully written. It constantly made me want to know these characters, to have chats with them, to listen to more and more of their stories.While I think this may well be Irving at its most courageous and unapologetic, I can see how this would not be a good entry point to his work for people who haven't read him (or for any person without an open mind and open heart). However, for readers with even a little tolerance or human empathy, this will be an illuminating, masterful and wonderful tour into a world not many have ventured into. I totally loved it.more
This is a really wonderful book! It's a coming of age story in the first half about a teenage boy, Billy, who realizes early on that he's bisexual. He gets "inappropriate" crushes on other boys, men and older women. It takes place in the late 50s and early 60s when he's young and then takes us through the rest of his life in less detail as he grows up and older.The story is filled with quirky characters, which Irving is well known for in his more famous books like World According to Garp etc. There's interesting characters like a cross dressing grandfather, a near-alcoholic uncle, an aunt and grandmother who are domineering women, a handsome bully schoolmate that both Billy and his best friend Elaine have a crush on and a transexual librarian, also someone Billy is infatuated with.The story is told by Billy who is looking back over his life and it jumps around a little bit, as if someone was telling you the story and is reminded of incidents, tells you, then gets back to where he was. It's not hard to follow.It does get a bit grim and sad when describing the Aids epidemic in the 80s as Billy looses a lot of friends, old and new.I think the book is very good at portraying an out of the ordinary life and how it affects him and his relationships, and how he and his life are affected by those around him, by his background and family and experiences as a boy.more
In One Person is the first John Irving novel that I've read. The novel is structured a bit differently from what I am used to, as Irving employs the somewhat old fashioned technique of having an older protagonist narrate the story, looking back over the course of his life. Billy identifies as bisexual, and has had male, female and transgender lovers. The narrative describes both his sexual realizations, and his genuine love and affection for his partners. But his love, while genuine, only goes so far, as Billy is definitely not monogamous - this isn't a stereotype, Billy is a three-dimensional character, with his own reasons for not wanting to commit to a single monogamous, long-term relationship. He looks too, at the pain of being so distrusted by both gay men and straight women. The story is not told in a linear fashion, but moves back and forth through time and space, diverging into tangents and side-stories. It took me a while to get into the rhythm of the story, and I also found Irving leans a little heavily on the literary allusions. While most are well known (Shakespeare, Ibsen) others are more obscure (I'd heard of Giovanni's Room, but not read it). But my criticisms don't amount to much - this is lovely and well needed story of love and acceptance. Billy's story covers some fascinating places and time periods, from an all-boys prep school in Vermont in the 1960s, to Billy's travels abroad, studying in Vienna, and finally the tragedy of AIDs in the 1980s. The chapters in which Billy and his friends are forced to experience the horror of watching friends and loved ones weaken and die from disease are the most powerful and poignant in the book.As a side note, I loved the librarian, Ms. Frost, whom Billy is infatuated with as a child, and as a teenager, has his first sexual experience with. Such a great and powerful presence she had, and an intriguing backstory. Even in the novel format, I felt like she was "stealing the scene." Kittredge was an interesting character too, the handsome though cruel jock that Billy and his friend Elaine both fall hopelessly in love with. The revelations about him at the end were surprising. I even found his cruelly chosen nickname for Billy, "Nymph" (after the air-spirit in Shakespeare's The Tempest), oddly endearing.In One Person is a beautiful novel. Recommended.more
I started "In One Person" looking forward to a sensitive, if humorous, treatment of LBGT issues in the life of protaganist Billy. His life is detailed from small town prep school into old age. I expected that Billy -self-identified as bisexual- would explore the range of sexual partners. The setting is an all male private New England school. Its drama productions give outlet to men or boys playing women and women playing boys. Wrestling also familiar territory for Irving weaves into the plot. I didn't expect that most everyone in his family is involved in some sort of sexual deviance along with various townies and school people. Is there something in the town water? Who needs the Haight or the East Village? And the town librarian? Well, I don't want to spoil it.What's more disappointing is most of those that stray from the sexual norm are portrayed as zanies. It's hard to take them seriously or care about the tragedies that ensue. Semi closeted part time tranvestite relatives are treated as comic stereotypes. They commit suicide and it's hard to care.There's a lot of sex going on of the mostly non-standard variety. The emphasis on extraneous oddities disserves the case for acceptance of diverse sexual identities. [to be continued]more
Rating: 3.75* of five The Book Report: The book description says:A compelling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love—tormented, funny, and affecting—and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character of In One Person, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a “sexual suspect,” a phrase first used by John Irving in 1978 in his landmark novel of “terminal cases,” The World According to Garp. His most political novel since The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving’s In One Person is a poignant tribute to Billy’s friends and lovers—a theatrical cast of characters who defy category and convention. Not least, In One Person is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself “worthwhile.”My Review: I'll start with the personal part: I don't “get” bisexuals. We're all bisexual, on a sliding scale developed by good ol' Doctor Kinsey. Sex feels good (if you're doing it right) and the plumbing isn't all that important. Or wouldn't be if the Longface Puritans League would quit getting all pantiwadulous over the subject.So what, is then my response to the avowed bisexual. Big deal, says I. If I think the aforementioned bisexual is desirable, I will then proceed to ask him for a date. And he will say yes or no. And the world will continue to spin. But not one single thing will happen because he's bisexual.All very simple, right? Oh so wrong. To know you're attracted to men is a defining thing for a man. Knowing that Davy Jones of the Monkees was the face I wanted to see when I woke up clarified things for me. I was, admittedly, seven at the time, and the clarity was limited to knowing that was what I wanted with no concept whatsoever of the other possibilities and requirements. But clear I was, and clear I've stayed: Men, please. My wives knew they were marrying a gay man, and we had sex in our marriage beds. Remember the whole “sex feels good” passage above? It does! I promise! As much fun as it was, I would never have been faithful to those women, and would never have lied about it, and was clear from the get-go what my deal was...because I had An Identity. Other people didn't and don't like my identity (fuck 'em) but I had one. And bisexuals, in our binary public culture of Men Want Women and Women Want Men (unless their husbands want a three-way with another girl), don't rebel enough for the rebels or conform enough for the conformists.That has got to suck wookie balls. Here your nature is absolutely in line with what evolution produced, you are the exemplar of the normal and ordinary human sexual response, and no one wants your ass in their camp! John Irving's novel deals with sexual awakening, romantic flowering, and relationship hell...TWICE! Billy, our narrator, knows something's wonky when he gets major wood for the town librarian AND his new stepfather. He careens through a hormonally hyperdriven adolescence, a love affair with a gay guy (such a bad bad bad idea) and on and on and on through fifty years of life as a hidden, unloved, unvalued majority member. I loved Irving's honesty about the deeply personal pain and scars he took, and dealt, through Billy's voice. I loved the honest self-appraisals scattered throughout the book, Irving stating clearly that he was a snob, that he had mixed feelings about AIDS (fear, pity, disgust) and its victims.Because this is very much a roman à clef. It comes late in his career, but it is what it is. I love that he's written it. I love that he tells a man's story of not fitting his skin still less fitting in. I don't love the writing. It's not memorable in any way. I can't think of one single line to quote, I can't remember where the lines I thought might do are located, and in a few days I won't remember much about this book except it's an amazement to me that I was so completely self-absorbed that I ever thought bisexuals were just tiresomely difficult to bed.Irving changed my world-view a little bit. I hope for the better, and I expect for the long haul. I'm a lot more likely not to roll my eyes when some guy I'm hitting on tells me he's bisexual (in my age cohort, a surprisingly large number of men are “coming out” as bi). So three-plus stars. If this had been a story about heterosexuals, it would be one and only one star.Because I need these eyeblinks to count. Time's not slowing down no matter how many kittens I sacrifice to the gods.more
I am a huge and loyal fan of John Irving. However, this time I was a bit disappointed. I found In one Person one of his weakest and most detatched novels to date. Perhaps the subject matter is more shocking and groundbreaking to an American reader, but I just couldn't be moved by most of the characters, their stories and their challenges. There is little at stake for the main character, he passes through life being different and meeting some obstacles, but nothing much really happens. I get a feeling that Irving wanted to make a statement (important and timely enough) about gay living and how important it is that we accept variety- more than he wanted to write a novel about characters. In his 13th book I am also getting a bit tired of some of the recurring themes from his previous books: wrestling, New Hampshire, Vienna, main character a writer, etc. Still, no Irving book is worth ignoring, but if you really want to read some of his gems, start with his earlier books and work your way through at least 10 brilliant novels.more
Although many critics did not like Irving's previous 2 novels, I did. So when I read reviews that led me to believe that this book was superior to those, I was looking forward to this book. I was disappointed. Being the 10th novel I had read by Irving, I knew that I would enjoy it because it was Irving. Unfortunately, his use of quirky characters felt worn in this novel. The constant impact of minor characters on a person 50 years after they were in his life just gets old after a while. I just didn't get the sense of freshness in this novel. The description of the particulars of the aids epidemic seemed dated when written this long after the peak of the epidemic. I just never got a feel for what Bill(the main character) really felt. This is sometimes a problem in first person narratives. If you have read Irving before than you may like this, but if not then there are other books that he has written that are superior to this one.more
Now in his sixties, William (Billy) looks back over his life, his schooling, his friendships, and the many losses over the years. As a child with an absent father and an increasingly distant mother all might have gone badly for the young billy were it not for his grandparents, his easy going uncle and the arrival of the charismatic young man who was soon to be his stepfather. In fact it was his newly acquired stepfather, the handsome new English teacher at the Academy who helped set Billy on the course that was to become his life, kindling his interest in books and at the same time introducing him the the local librarian Miss Frost with whom the very young Billy instantly falls (and secretly) in love. But when Billy starts at the Academy he is also infatuated with one his fellow students, the good looking high flyer on the wrestling team, the over confident Jacques Kittredge. Billy learns early that he is bi-sexual, and has no problem with it.Billy takes us through his life and his love affairs with both men and women. Come the eighties the tragedy of AIDS takes its toll among many of his friends, and some of the writing here is especially touching and moving.Over the course of the novel there are a number of constant friends, and of course family, but we also learn of the outcome for many of those who we might have thought were forgotten over the course of time.In One Person is a wonderful read, with interesting and complex characters, we often do not know how complex until each is gradually revealed over the course of the novel. Billy himself changes over the course of time, always an endearing character he becomes more so as he becomes more empathetic as he ages. Beautifully written, one very soon feels confident in John Irving's hands that English will be treated with respect. It is a fascinating story with many surprises or revelations along the way; it is a novel the encourages understanding, tolerance and compassion; and it is quite simply a great read.more
Irving's writing is, as always, superb. I don't think he portrayed Bill's self-awakening as thoroughly as he could. The part of the story dealing with AIDS was riveting, troubling and tender.more
I didn't enjoy this as much as "Last Night on Twisted River"...perhaps because I wasn't as familiar with all the other literature that had its own subtext in the book. However, I love how Irving can write a story about the entire course of a character's life. Absolutely worth a read, though not his favorite IMO.more
A little long, a little predictable. The story was less complete. I think Mrs. Kitteridge was actually Mr. Kitteridge as a transgender. Good read. Not his best but not his worst.more
It's always a risky proposition when I pick up the latest novel of an author who has written one of my favorite books in the past couple decades. The bar is set high. Usually too high. This dynamic was at play with Irving's latest work. I was awestruck by "A Prayer for Owen Meany." "In One Person: A Novel" was a well-written saga that employed a good number of intriguing characters and explored some weighty issues. But I have to be candid. Midway through the saga that spans several decades, it became a bit tedious and even overly-preachy. In my estimation, he overused some devices, including his repeated references to Shakesperian drama. Still, Irving knows how to develop a story, layer-by-layer, then recount the tale in beautiful prose. It's a book worth reading.more
In One Person started out well; I was excited to be in Irving's world once again. He plays with the same cards each time, the fun is in how he shuffles them (fun bear reference in this one!). He's the king of quirky characters, but this time there's just a collection of quirks instead of characters. The story jumps around a bit in time, but it felt like a cover for how thin the story was; more like scenes than something that added up to a whole. I liked it more than I disliked it, it's just disappointing, more so considering I loved Irving's last two, [Last Night in Twisted River] and (especially) [Until I Find You].more
Contrived ending but well written with an interesting plot.more
The narrator is Bill Abbott, a bisexual novelist. In retrospect he describes his life from adolescence to old age. Half the book focuses on his teenage years at a private boys’ school in Vermont where he has his first "crushes on the wrong people," including his stepfather, the local librarian, the mother of his best friend, and Jacques Kittredge, the school's star wrestler and bully. The rest of the novel outlines his later years and those of his family members, friends, and lovers. Bill is described as the writer of "sexually explicit novels - those pleas for tolerance of sexual differences" (314). This is a perfect description of Irving's novel. To emphasize his theme, Irving has his narrator repeat the words of his one true love: "'please don't put a label on me - don't make me a category before you get to know me'" (425). He also has Bill quote Shylock's speech in which "Jew" could be replaced by "bisexual": "Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? . . . If you prick us, do we not bleed? . . . If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die" (310 - 311)? There is no doubt that Irving is well-meaning and feels passionately about the need for tolerance and acceptance; the problem is that sometimes he comes across more as a didactic essayist than a novelist. Shakespearean allusions are not the only ones to be found; there are references to several of Ibsen's plays and Dickens' novels, Flaubert's "Madame Bovary," and James Baldwin's "Giovanni's Room." Besides literary allusions, the novel has many other of the typical Irving elements: wrestling, bears, a missing father, a prep school setting, gender-bending, a trip to Vienna. There are a few problems with characterization. For example, Bill is not very astute, a trait that would hinder a writer who should have keen observational skills. Several times the reader will reach conclusions about a character's sexual identity long before Bill does. Too many of the female characters seem sexually repressed or damaged. Also, the number of people with sexual identity issues that Billy encounters in his youth seems large. Bill has a transvestite, a lesbian and a gay family member. Furthermore, half the people in his prep school turn out to be gay, transvestites or transgendered, especially those who were wrestlers in their adolescent years.There are many touches of humour, especially in the performances of the First Sister Players, the amateur theatrical group in Bill's hometown. There are also scenes of unrelenting horror, particularly in the section detailing the devastating effects of the AIDS epidemic. The statistics are harrowing - "By '95 - in New York, alone - more Americans had died of AIDS than were killed in Vietnam"(321) - as are the descriptions of the deaths of friends and lovers Bill witnesses.This novel is a clarion call for tolerance for people of all sexual persuasions. I doubt it will rank as one of Irving's great novels, but it is nonetheless an entertaining read.more
Another excellent novel by John Irving. Sometimes funny, witty, insightful, other times sad, disturbing, even gruesome.....it tells the story of Billy from his birth in 1942 until recent times. We meet all the interesting people that he encounters, that shape his life from his Grandpa Harry who plays only female roles in local Vermont theater productions to Miss Frost who is the town librarian and one of Billy's first loves. Much of the first half deals with Billy surviving his family in every meaning of the word while trying to understand and deal with his sexual nature. He is a self-described bisexual but he doesn't want others putting labels on him, nor judging him, until they know him. Over the years we meet many of Billy's partners and get to know them for better or worse.He becomes a writer, a rather successful one, strongly influenced by all those relationships especially from his private school years. There is a big mood shift at the two-thirds point of the story when Billy begins to learn of the passing of several of his classmates, victims of the Viet Nam war. A bit later, other friends are among the early victims AIDS. Billy visits a classmate with whom he toured Europe just before entering college, and he describes in great detail all of the man's medical problems and symptoms. But Billy survives all this and in the final excellent chapters he comes to closure with critical characters who had been missing from most of his life. Throughout the book Billy cries for tolerance and understanding, and he touches on all of the issues that he and his GLBTQ friends live with and deal with. While I am not a total convert, I recognize an excellent story well told and I recommend it. Five stars.more
Some reviewers have complained that John Irving’s, In One Person, is too contrived, that there are too many gay, lesbian and bisexual people in his small town and private local school, and life itself, to render true. Yet when you count up the actual people in his small town and school who are “afflicted”, it only amounts to a handful of people and/or families. The school, being private, allows students from all over the US and world. Therefore, small town, or not, the school will have a diverse cast of characters. Additionally, people tend to surround themselves with like-minded people. For the protagonist, being bisexual, it is natural it will include those from both sexes. Since he is a bisexual, it is also natural that people are going to refer young adults to him to help them deal with and understand their conflicting feelings. Lastly, a writer will use poetic extremes to illustrate a point. I do not think this novel is a masterpiece, but it is well conceived and written. I enjoyed the novel and was sorry to see it end. The characters were interesting and diverse, the plot was well developed, the writing was exquisite and the ending was tooled by an author who has lived and gained wisdom over his lifetime, which was reflected in this novel. Thus, I gave it a rating of 4 stars; but, if an option, I would have given it 4.25. This is a novel worth reading. It will leave one thinking, often, about those who are “different” then the norm and the injustices they suffer. It will also leave you satisfied, having read a finely written novel.more
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Reviews

Started out a bit slow for me but eventually drew me in to the point where I had to find out what happened next. Three more cheers for Irving on this one.more
All of the classic Irving moves are satisfying: quirky family and townsfolk, beloved wrestling coach, dark but also nostalgia-filled prep school setting, just-short-of-traumatic sexual initiation, frequent interruptions in the characters' lives by the march of American history/culture, etc. But this is SUCH a project novel, and as a result, it begins to feel like Irving is only introducing new characters in order to have them break the sexual mold in some perfunctory way. Oh how I wish he would stick to childhood stories, where he remains unsurpassed.more
I'm a big fan of John Irving. I love his slightly offbeat characters and the contrasts he draws between them. In One Person was vintage Irving, but definitely not my favourite. I couldn't identify with the power Kettredge had over both William and Elaine, but I loved Miss Frost. I think the story wasn't as tightly written as usual...for the first time, I noticed just how long one of John Irving's novel was.more
After finishing John Irving’s latest book, "In One Peron", I was filled with great sadness. The sadness of saying goodbye. Typically, after finishing an Irving book the "goodbye" means having to live behind all the wonderful characters and the gripping story that accompanied me throughout the book. This time the "goodbye" has an entirely different meaning.Irving is one of my favourite authors. Some of his books (most notably, "A Prayer for Owen Meany") are the best novels I’ve ever read. However, his most recent books – "Until I Find You" (2005), "Last Night in Twisted River" (2009) and now "In One Person" (2012) – are a disappointment. Painful as it is to admit this to myself, Irving has lost his magical touch."In One Person" is the life story of Billy Dean, from his teenage years in the 1950s until he’s about 60. Billy grows up in the New England town of First Sister, Vermont, living on the campus of an all-boys boarding school. He never met his father, and his conservative, stern mother will not divulge any details about the man she fell in love with all those years ago. Other dominating characters in young Billy’s life are his grandfather (an amateur actor who prefers acting female roles), his stepfather Richard, and the local libraraian with the big hands, Miss Frost. It is his infatuation with Miss Frost that helps Billy discover his bisexuality. Billy is attracted not only to Miss Frost but also to Kitteredge, the leading member of the school’s wrestling team. Unlike the librarian, this attraction remains one-sided.Aside from bears, almost all of Irving’s usual themes are present in "In One Person": New England, boarding schools, wrestling and coaching, intra-family intimate ties, single motherhood, marital infidelities, Vienna, etc. (Perhaps the homosexuality theme of this novel supplies the "bears" theme from another angle…) But despite the familiar settings of Irving’s beloved novels, "In One Person" fails to rise to the test. The story is dull and the characters, despite their colourfulness, are too predictable. The frequent use of parentheses, an Irving technique to communicate directly with the reader, becomes very tiresome after the first few chapters. And even though by now we are all used to Irving’s explicit language, some parts of this book descend to new depths of profanity. A couple of times I imagined Irving as the kindergarten boy who says "bad words" because he enjoys watching the shocked expressions of the adults.A couple of weeks ago, writer Philip Roth announced his retirement from writing. For the sake of preserving my fond memories of his novels it is with great sadness that I recommend for Irving to follow in Roth’s footsteps.more
Irving’s new book is reminiscent of his earlier works (The World According To Garp, Hotel New Hampshire) and for fans of Irving this is a good thing. It is about an elderly bisexual looking back on his life, and provides insight into the coming of age of the gender ‘questioning’ kids in a small private boy’s school. Full of quirky characters ala John Irving. I especially appreciated the section on the early days of the AIDS epidemic and the horrific and tragic impact on the gay and bi community. Well read by the narrator.more
This is a fantastic book and was a delight to read from beginning to end, even when it went into stories of very difficult times I still remember too well. Funny and sensitive and courageous and just so masterfully written. It constantly made me want to know these characters, to have chats with them, to listen to more and more of their stories.While I think this may well be Irving at its most courageous and unapologetic, I can see how this would not be a good entry point to his work for people who haven't read him (or for any person without an open mind and open heart). However, for readers with even a little tolerance or human empathy, this will be an illuminating, masterful and wonderful tour into a world not many have ventured into. I totally loved it.more
This is a really wonderful book! It's a coming of age story in the first half about a teenage boy, Billy, who realizes early on that he's bisexual. He gets "inappropriate" crushes on other boys, men and older women. It takes place in the late 50s and early 60s when he's young and then takes us through the rest of his life in less detail as he grows up and older.The story is filled with quirky characters, which Irving is well known for in his more famous books like World According to Garp etc. There's interesting characters like a cross dressing grandfather, a near-alcoholic uncle, an aunt and grandmother who are domineering women, a handsome bully schoolmate that both Billy and his best friend Elaine have a crush on and a transexual librarian, also someone Billy is infatuated with.The story is told by Billy who is looking back over his life and it jumps around a little bit, as if someone was telling you the story and is reminded of incidents, tells you, then gets back to where he was. It's not hard to follow.It does get a bit grim and sad when describing the Aids epidemic in the 80s as Billy looses a lot of friends, old and new.I think the book is very good at portraying an out of the ordinary life and how it affects him and his relationships, and how he and his life are affected by those around him, by his background and family and experiences as a boy.more
In One Person is the first John Irving novel that I've read. The novel is structured a bit differently from what I am used to, as Irving employs the somewhat old fashioned technique of having an older protagonist narrate the story, looking back over the course of his life. Billy identifies as bisexual, and has had male, female and transgender lovers. The narrative describes both his sexual realizations, and his genuine love and affection for his partners. But his love, while genuine, only goes so far, as Billy is definitely not monogamous - this isn't a stereotype, Billy is a three-dimensional character, with his own reasons for not wanting to commit to a single monogamous, long-term relationship. He looks too, at the pain of being so distrusted by both gay men and straight women. The story is not told in a linear fashion, but moves back and forth through time and space, diverging into tangents and side-stories. It took me a while to get into the rhythm of the story, and I also found Irving leans a little heavily on the literary allusions. While most are well known (Shakespeare, Ibsen) others are more obscure (I'd heard of Giovanni's Room, but not read it). But my criticisms don't amount to much - this is lovely and well needed story of love and acceptance. Billy's story covers some fascinating places and time periods, from an all-boys prep school in Vermont in the 1960s, to Billy's travels abroad, studying in Vienna, and finally the tragedy of AIDs in the 1980s. The chapters in which Billy and his friends are forced to experience the horror of watching friends and loved ones weaken and die from disease are the most powerful and poignant in the book.As a side note, I loved the librarian, Ms. Frost, whom Billy is infatuated with as a child, and as a teenager, has his first sexual experience with. Such a great and powerful presence she had, and an intriguing backstory. Even in the novel format, I felt like she was "stealing the scene." Kittredge was an interesting character too, the handsome though cruel jock that Billy and his friend Elaine both fall hopelessly in love with. The revelations about him at the end were surprising. I even found his cruelly chosen nickname for Billy, "Nymph" (after the air-spirit in Shakespeare's The Tempest), oddly endearing.In One Person is a beautiful novel. Recommended.more
I started "In One Person" looking forward to a sensitive, if humorous, treatment of LBGT issues in the life of protaganist Billy. His life is detailed from small town prep school into old age. I expected that Billy -self-identified as bisexual- would explore the range of sexual partners. The setting is an all male private New England school. Its drama productions give outlet to men or boys playing women and women playing boys. Wrestling also familiar territory for Irving weaves into the plot. I didn't expect that most everyone in his family is involved in some sort of sexual deviance along with various townies and school people. Is there something in the town water? Who needs the Haight or the East Village? And the town librarian? Well, I don't want to spoil it.What's more disappointing is most of those that stray from the sexual norm are portrayed as zanies. It's hard to take them seriously or care about the tragedies that ensue. Semi closeted part time tranvestite relatives are treated as comic stereotypes. They commit suicide and it's hard to care.There's a lot of sex going on of the mostly non-standard variety. The emphasis on extraneous oddities disserves the case for acceptance of diverse sexual identities. [to be continued]more
Rating: 3.75* of five The Book Report: The book description says:A compelling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love—tormented, funny, and affecting—and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character of In One Person, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a “sexual suspect,” a phrase first used by John Irving in 1978 in his landmark novel of “terminal cases,” The World According to Garp. His most political novel since The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving’s In One Person is a poignant tribute to Billy’s friends and lovers—a theatrical cast of characters who defy category and convention. Not least, In One Person is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself “worthwhile.”My Review: I'll start with the personal part: I don't “get” bisexuals. We're all bisexual, on a sliding scale developed by good ol' Doctor Kinsey. Sex feels good (if you're doing it right) and the plumbing isn't all that important. Or wouldn't be if the Longface Puritans League would quit getting all pantiwadulous over the subject.So what, is then my response to the avowed bisexual. Big deal, says I. If I think the aforementioned bisexual is desirable, I will then proceed to ask him for a date. And he will say yes or no. And the world will continue to spin. But not one single thing will happen because he's bisexual.All very simple, right? Oh so wrong. To know you're attracted to men is a defining thing for a man. Knowing that Davy Jones of the Monkees was the face I wanted to see when I woke up clarified things for me. I was, admittedly, seven at the time, and the clarity was limited to knowing that was what I wanted with no concept whatsoever of the other possibilities and requirements. But clear I was, and clear I've stayed: Men, please. My wives knew they were marrying a gay man, and we had sex in our marriage beds. Remember the whole “sex feels good” passage above? It does! I promise! As much fun as it was, I would never have been faithful to those women, and would never have lied about it, and was clear from the get-go what my deal was...because I had An Identity. Other people didn't and don't like my identity (fuck 'em) but I had one. And bisexuals, in our binary public culture of Men Want Women and Women Want Men (unless their husbands want a three-way with another girl), don't rebel enough for the rebels or conform enough for the conformists.That has got to suck wookie balls. Here your nature is absolutely in line with what evolution produced, you are the exemplar of the normal and ordinary human sexual response, and no one wants your ass in their camp! John Irving's novel deals with sexual awakening, romantic flowering, and relationship hell...TWICE! Billy, our narrator, knows something's wonky when he gets major wood for the town librarian AND his new stepfather. He careens through a hormonally hyperdriven adolescence, a love affair with a gay guy (such a bad bad bad idea) and on and on and on through fifty years of life as a hidden, unloved, unvalued majority member. I loved Irving's honesty about the deeply personal pain and scars he took, and dealt, through Billy's voice. I loved the honest self-appraisals scattered throughout the book, Irving stating clearly that he was a snob, that he had mixed feelings about AIDS (fear, pity, disgust) and its victims.Because this is very much a roman à clef. It comes late in his career, but it is what it is. I love that he's written it. I love that he tells a man's story of not fitting his skin still less fitting in. I don't love the writing. It's not memorable in any way. I can't think of one single line to quote, I can't remember where the lines I thought might do are located, and in a few days I won't remember much about this book except it's an amazement to me that I was so completely self-absorbed that I ever thought bisexuals were just tiresomely difficult to bed.Irving changed my world-view a little bit. I hope for the better, and I expect for the long haul. I'm a lot more likely not to roll my eyes when some guy I'm hitting on tells me he's bisexual (in my age cohort, a surprisingly large number of men are “coming out” as bi). So three-plus stars. If this had been a story about heterosexuals, it would be one and only one star.Because I need these eyeblinks to count. Time's not slowing down no matter how many kittens I sacrifice to the gods.more
I am a huge and loyal fan of John Irving. However, this time I was a bit disappointed. I found In one Person one of his weakest and most detatched novels to date. Perhaps the subject matter is more shocking and groundbreaking to an American reader, but I just couldn't be moved by most of the characters, their stories and their challenges. There is little at stake for the main character, he passes through life being different and meeting some obstacles, but nothing much really happens. I get a feeling that Irving wanted to make a statement (important and timely enough) about gay living and how important it is that we accept variety- more than he wanted to write a novel about characters. In his 13th book I am also getting a bit tired of some of the recurring themes from his previous books: wrestling, New Hampshire, Vienna, main character a writer, etc. Still, no Irving book is worth ignoring, but if you really want to read some of his gems, start with his earlier books and work your way through at least 10 brilliant novels.more
Although many critics did not like Irving's previous 2 novels, I did. So when I read reviews that led me to believe that this book was superior to those, I was looking forward to this book. I was disappointed. Being the 10th novel I had read by Irving, I knew that I would enjoy it because it was Irving. Unfortunately, his use of quirky characters felt worn in this novel. The constant impact of minor characters on a person 50 years after they were in his life just gets old after a while. I just didn't get the sense of freshness in this novel. The description of the particulars of the aids epidemic seemed dated when written this long after the peak of the epidemic. I just never got a feel for what Bill(the main character) really felt. This is sometimes a problem in first person narratives. If you have read Irving before than you may like this, but if not then there are other books that he has written that are superior to this one.more
Now in his sixties, William (Billy) looks back over his life, his schooling, his friendships, and the many losses over the years. As a child with an absent father and an increasingly distant mother all might have gone badly for the young billy were it not for his grandparents, his easy going uncle and the arrival of the charismatic young man who was soon to be his stepfather. In fact it was his newly acquired stepfather, the handsome new English teacher at the Academy who helped set Billy on the course that was to become his life, kindling his interest in books and at the same time introducing him the the local librarian Miss Frost with whom the very young Billy instantly falls (and secretly) in love. But when Billy starts at the Academy he is also infatuated with one his fellow students, the good looking high flyer on the wrestling team, the over confident Jacques Kittredge. Billy learns early that he is bi-sexual, and has no problem with it.Billy takes us through his life and his love affairs with both men and women. Come the eighties the tragedy of AIDS takes its toll among many of his friends, and some of the writing here is especially touching and moving.Over the course of the novel there are a number of constant friends, and of course family, but we also learn of the outcome for many of those who we might have thought were forgotten over the course of time.In One Person is a wonderful read, with interesting and complex characters, we often do not know how complex until each is gradually revealed over the course of the novel. Billy himself changes over the course of time, always an endearing character he becomes more so as he becomes more empathetic as he ages. Beautifully written, one very soon feels confident in John Irving's hands that English will be treated with respect. It is a fascinating story with many surprises or revelations along the way; it is a novel the encourages understanding, tolerance and compassion; and it is quite simply a great read.more
Irving's writing is, as always, superb. I don't think he portrayed Bill's self-awakening as thoroughly as he could. The part of the story dealing with AIDS was riveting, troubling and tender.more
I didn't enjoy this as much as "Last Night on Twisted River"...perhaps because I wasn't as familiar with all the other literature that had its own subtext in the book. However, I love how Irving can write a story about the entire course of a character's life. Absolutely worth a read, though not his favorite IMO.more
A little long, a little predictable. The story was less complete. I think Mrs. Kitteridge was actually Mr. Kitteridge as a transgender. Good read. Not his best but not his worst.more
It's always a risky proposition when I pick up the latest novel of an author who has written one of my favorite books in the past couple decades. The bar is set high. Usually too high. This dynamic was at play with Irving's latest work. I was awestruck by "A Prayer for Owen Meany." "In One Person: A Novel" was a well-written saga that employed a good number of intriguing characters and explored some weighty issues. But I have to be candid. Midway through the saga that spans several decades, it became a bit tedious and even overly-preachy. In my estimation, he overused some devices, including his repeated references to Shakesperian drama. Still, Irving knows how to develop a story, layer-by-layer, then recount the tale in beautiful prose. It's a book worth reading.more
In One Person started out well; I was excited to be in Irving's world once again. He plays with the same cards each time, the fun is in how he shuffles them (fun bear reference in this one!). He's the king of quirky characters, but this time there's just a collection of quirks instead of characters. The story jumps around a bit in time, but it felt like a cover for how thin the story was; more like scenes than something that added up to a whole. I liked it more than I disliked it, it's just disappointing, more so considering I loved Irving's last two, [Last Night in Twisted River] and (especially) [Until I Find You].more
Contrived ending but well written with an interesting plot.more
The narrator is Bill Abbott, a bisexual novelist. In retrospect he describes his life from adolescence to old age. Half the book focuses on his teenage years at a private boys’ school in Vermont where he has his first "crushes on the wrong people," including his stepfather, the local librarian, the mother of his best friend, and Jacques Kittredge, the school's star wrestler and bully. The rest of the novel outlines his later years and those of his family members, friends, and lovers. Bill is described as the writer of "sexually explicit novels - those pleas for tolerance of sexual differences" (314). This is a perfect description of Irving's novel. To emphasize his theme, Irving has his narrator repeat the words of his one true love: "'please don't put a label on me - don't make me a category before you get to know me'" (425). He also has Bill quote Shylock's speech in which "Jew" could be replaced by "bisexual": "Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? . . . If you prick us, do we not bleed? . . . If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die" (310 - 311)? There is no doubt that Irving is well-meaning and feels passionately about the need for tolerance and acceptance; the problem is that sometimes he comes across more as a didactic essayist than a novelist. Shakespearean allusions are not the only ones to be found; there are references to several of Ibsen's plays and Dickens' novels, Flaubert's "Madame Bovary," and James Baldwin's "Giovanni's Room." Besides literary allusions, the novel has many other of the typical Irving elements: wrestling, bears, a missing father, a prep school setting, gender-bending, a trip to Vienna. There are a few problems with characterization. For example, Bill is not very astute, a trait that would hinder a writer who should have keen observational skills. Several times the reader will reach conclusions about a character's sexual identity long before Bill does. Too many of the female characters seem sexually repressed or damaged. Also, the number of people with sexual identity issues that Billy encounters in his youth seems large. Bill has a transvestite, a lesbian and a gay family member. Furthermore, half the people in his prep school turn out to be gay, transvestites or transgendered, especially those who were wrestlers in their adolescent years.There are many touches of humour, especially in the performances of the First Sister Players, the amateur theatrical group in Bill's hometown. There are also scenes of unrelenting horror, particularly in the section detailing the devastating effects of the AIDS epidemic. The statistics are harrowing - "By '95 - in New York, alone - more Americans had died of AIDS than were killed in Vietnam"(321) - as are the descriptions of the deaths of friends and lovers Bill witnesses.This novel is a clarion call for tolerance for people of all sexual persuasions. I doubt it will rank as one of Irving's great novels, but it is nonetheless an entertaining read.more
Another excellent novel by John Irving. Sometimes funny, witty, insightful, other times sad, disturbing, even gruesome.....it tells the story of Billy from his birth in 1942 until recent times. We meet all the interesting people that he encounters, that shape his life from his Grandpa Harry who plays only female roles in local Vermont theater productions to Miss Frost who is the town librarian and one of Billy's first loves. Much of the first half deals with Billy surviving his family in every meaning of the word while trying to understand and deal with his sexual nature. He is a self-described bisexual but he doesn't want others putting labels on him, nor judging him, until they know him. Over the years we meet many of Billy's partners and get to know them for better or worse.He becomes a writer, a rather successful one, strongly influenced by all those relationships especially from his private school years. There is a big mood shift at the two-thirds point of the story when Billy begins to learn of the passing of several of his classmates, victims of the Viet Nam war. A bit later, other friends are among the early victims AIDS. Billy visits a classmate with whom he toured Europe just before entering college, and he describes in great detail all of the man's medical problems and symptoms. But Billy survives all this and in the final excellent chapters he comes to closure with critical characters who had been missing from most of his life. Throughout the book Billy cries for tolerance and understanding, and he touches on all of the issues that he and his GLBTQ friends live with and deal with. While I am not a total convert, I recognize an excellent story well told and I recommend it. Five stars.more
Some reviewers have complained that John Irving’s, In One Person, is too contrived, that there are too many gay, lesbian and bisexual people in his small town and private local school, and life itself, to render true. Yet when you count up the actual people in his small town and school who are “afflicted”, it only amounts to a handful of people and/or families. The school, being private, allows students from all over the US and world. Therefore, small town, or not, the school will have a diverse cast of characters. Additionally, people tend to surround themselves with like-minded people. For the protagonist, being bisexual, it is natural it will include those from both sexes. Since he is a bisexual, it is also natural that people are going to refer young adults to him to help them deal with and understand their conflicting feelings. Lastly, a writer will use poetic extremes to illustrate a point. I do not think this novel is a masterpiece, but it is well conceived and written. I enjoyed the novel and was sorry to see it end. The characters were interesting and diverse, the plot was well developed, the writing was exquisite and the ending was tooled by an author who has lived and gained wisdom over his lifetime, which was reflected in this novel. Thus, I gave it a rating of 4 stars; but, if an option, I would have given it 4.25. This is a novel worth reading. It will leave one thinking, often, about those who are “different” then the norm and the injustices they suffer. It will also leave you satisfied, having read a finely written novel.more
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