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#424 ~ In One Person

In One Person by John Irving

Published by: Simon & Schuster

Published on: May 8, 2012

Page Count: 425

Genre: Literary Fiction

My Reading Format: Review copy sent to me by the publisher for consideration

Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook


My Review

Billy Dean, the son of an absent father and a mother still living with her own parents, may be young, but he recognizes that he has crushes on the wrong people. He may not always be able to identify his feelings by name, but he understands early on that he is bisexual. Not only does he have a crush on Richard Abbott, the man who will eventually become his stepfather and adopt him, but the tall local librarian with large hands, Miss Frost. It was through Richard’s encouragement and Miss Frost’s reading suggestions that Billy learned that literature can help navigate wrong crushes and bring sense to the human condition. It was there that he first expressed his desire to be a writer. Many decades later, Billy Abbott is a well-know author known for his novels exploring sexuality. It is this older, more secure Billy who is sharing his life. In One Person explores the confusion, fear, pain, wisdom, joy, and peace that comes from honoring instead of repressing one’s full person.

Unlike many others, I’ve read only two of John Irving’s thirteen novels, The Cider House Rules and now In One Person. Both novels are written from the perspective of young men without fathers who find even better father figures, men who teach them what they need to know to navigate their world and love every part of them. Both novels also address shame. There is the internal shame experienced when one does something wrong as well as the outward shame wielded by society to enforce societal norms. Through his storytelling, John Irving illustrates that the key to living as fulfilled life is to distinguish between the two.

There are so many things that impressed me with this book. Irving’s writing is gorgeous and his characters are so rich in personality. Grandpa Harry, the lumber man who loves to take on lead female roles in the town’s amateur theatrical society, is nothing short of a gem. He brings much needed levity and tenderness to Billy’s life. John Irving breaths both life and New England into all of his characters, from Billy and Ellen to the wrestling coach at Favorite River Academy. Just as with his characters, Irving’s themes are layered and intricate. I expected to encounter sexual themes when I picked up In One Person. The main character is, after all, a bisexual man who happens to be attracted to the most “passable transsexuals.” I was particularly touched by the sections where Billy recounts the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s. However, what stuck out to me even more was what Irving had to say about childhood and memory. When I read the following paragraphs, I stopped and considered not only how this applied to Billy’s life, but to my own as well:

In a later novel, I would aproach this idea a little differently—a little more carefully, maybe. “In increments both measurable and not, our childhood is stolen from us—not always in one momentous event but often in a series of small robberies, which add up to the same loss.” I suppose I could have written “betrayals” instead of “robberies”; in my own family’s case, I might have used the deceptions word—citing lies of both omission and commission. But I’ll stand by what I wrote; it suffices.

In another novel—very near the beginning of the book, in fact—I wrote: “Your memory is a monster; your forget—it doesn’t. If simply files things away; it keeps things for you, or hides things from you. Your memory summons things to your recall with a will of its own. You imagine you have a memory, but your memory has you!” (I’ll stand by that, too.)

~ from page 260

In One Person was nothing short of a compulsive read for me. From the moment Billy mention Miss Frost’s name until he has finished telling his story, I wanted to be in his story. I loved his quirky family and I loved the honesty with which bared his soul. This novel read especially well for me after having read The Starboard Sea. I wondered how Billy and Jason would have gotten along. Challenging, authentic, gritty, and beautiful, I cannot recommend In One Person more.

26 Comments

  • At 2012.05.08 10:00, Sandy said:

    I’ve been wondering about this one, as it got a lot of hype when it came out (all of his do!). I’ve only read one of his books – Last Night in Twisted River. His characterization was amazing, but the book seemed off to me. My book club read it and nobody was fond of it. I still want to pursue his back list though…Cider House and Owen Meany are on my radar.

    • At 2012.05.08 21:33, Literate Housewife said:

      I tried but couldn’t get in to Twisted River. From the sounds of it, many people on Twitter were the same. In fact, a few hated the book, but forgave Irving for it. I can see where he has earned loyal readers. This book is outstanding and I truly enjoyed Cider House Rules. I say please give him another shot!

    • At 2012.05.08 11:00, Ti said:

      I am really looking forward to this one. His novels are so rich as far as the characters go. He has created numerous characters that I remember years after I’ve met them.

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    • At 2012.05.08 11:06, Xe Sands said:

      That small excerpt has convinced me that I need to read this book. What amazing writing – I can see why you were so taken with it.

      Thank you for your thoughtful review and perspective. On my TBR now.

      • At 2012.05.08 21:35, Literate Housewife said:

        I think you’ll love it, Xe! That was such a tiny sampling. Irving’s writing is some of the best.

      • At 2012.05.08 11:49, jenn aka the picky girl said:

        I’ve never made it all the way through an Irving novel The frequent introspective male protagonist is not one of my favorites, particularly because I had a close friend from high school and college that was *the* introspective male protagonist. It got old in real life, really quickly. So I have less patience with them in books. However, you’ve not often steered me wrong. ;) And the quotes you include interest me. Thanks!

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        • At 2012.05.08 21:41, Literate Housewife said:

          If the frequent introspective male protagonist gets to you, you will still find him in this book. I completely understand what you’re saying, though. I have the same difficulty with women – especially when they are insecure. I wonder why that is? I can’t say that I’ve ever been personally annoyed by one, unless I count myself. :) I say give it a try. What he’s looking back upon is really quite interesting. If you don’t like it, I’ll buy you a drink at BEA. Note that if you do not read this book before BEA 2012, this offer is null and void. HA!

        • At 2012.05.08 12:59, Audra said:

          I’ve tended to turn my nose up at Irving b/c his focus hasn’t every grabbed me — but what you’ve described here rather intrigues me!! I’ll have to consider…!

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          • At 2012.05.08 21:43, Literate Housewife said:

            There are characters in this book that will grab you. I promise. I loved the entire exploration. I do hope you give it a try!

          • At 2012.05.08 13:43, Roof Beam Reader said:

            Great thoughts – I cannot wait to read this one!

            I highly suggest The World According to Garp as your next Irving read. My favorite. :)

            • At 2012.05.08 21:45, Literate Housewife said:

              Adam, I think you will love this book. I will be counting the days until you do because I want to hear what you have to say about it. I will definitely pick up The World According to Garp. I need to read more Irving!

            • At 2012.05.08 15:02, Kailana said:

              I can’t believe I have never read John Irving before!

              • At 2012.05.08 21:46, Literate Housewife said:

                Then now is a perfect time to pick up a copy of In One Person and be gone with your Irving virginity! ;) Seriously, I loved this book and why not make it your introduction?

              • At 2012.05.08 17:43, Anita said:

                I’ve not read any John Irving before, I don’t have a good reason as to why, but I tend to read less male authors…who knows.
                I saw the cover of this one last night, on a cart to go out as we were closing the store….love working Monday nights and getting my hands on new books….LOL!
                Not sure if I’ll be adding this one or not, but your compelling review certainly got my attention…thanks.

                • At 2012.05.08 21:53, Literate Housewife said:

                  I think the cover of this book is eye catching. I would recommend anyone interested in it to give it a try, but I can understand why this book and John Irving might not be for everyone for many reasons. There are authors and novels that fall into that category for me, too.

                  How do you leave the store on Monday nights without your arms loaded with new releases? I don’t think I have that kind of self control. :) Although, it might be fun to do that just once… Can you quit a job where you actually owe them money at the end of a work week?

                • At 2012.05.08 20:31, justmom said:

                  This does sound good. I’ve read several John Irvign but with the buzz this one has been getting I want to read it but also go back and read all the others again. Someone will have to host a read all John Irving challenge next year!

                  • At 2012.05.08 21:54, Literate Housewife said:

                    Oh, a John Irving challenge. I was thinking all day long as I was seeing Book Riot’s Toni Morrison Day festivities that it would have been nice to do something similar for him. Hmmmm…

                  • At 2012.05.08 20:40, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

                    You must read A Prayer for Owen Meany! This sounds fabulous – I can’t wait to read it!

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                    • At 2012.05.08 21:56, Literate Housewife said:

                      I definitely will, Kathy. I remember seeing somewhere that a new edition of Owen Meany was published. Maybe a fresh new cover to inspire my reading? I hope you love In One Person as much as I did!

                    • At 2012.05.09 09:56, Karen White said:

                      You know I don’t usually trumpet male authors, but I have to say that like Tom Robbins, John Irving is one of my old favorites. I think I read everything he wrote up to the early 90s. The last one I read was A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR, which I’d highly recommend. (the audiobook narrated by George Guidall is wonderful). It has very mixed reviews, but I found his writing touching and hilarious in this one.

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                      • At 2012.05.09 12:12, Literate Housewife said:

                        I have never listened to a George Guidall audiobook yet. I’ll definitely have to keep that in mind when I get to A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR. I do plan on reading as many of Irving’s novels as I can.

                      • At 2012.05.11 08:25, Mari @Bookworm with a View said:

                        I can’t wait to read this book!

                        Thanks for a great review.

                        • At 2012.05.13 19:09, Emily said:

                          I keep running into positive In One Person reviews. I’ll definitely have to add it to the pile.

                          Confession: I’ve never read any Irving. Don’t tell anyone, though! I don’t want to get shunned ;)

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                          • At 2012.05.17 10:08, amanda (tnrunner66) said:

                            I stayed up late finishing this last night and holy wow did I love this book. I actually hugged it when I finished it. I have had a love hate relationship with John Irving’s books since the early 80′s when I first read The World According to Garp. Some of his books rank among my favorites of all times and some of them I couldn’t finish but I always give them a chance. He has a way of creating these amazing characters that no matter how different they are from me or my life I want to be a part of theirs. I have read some reviews of this where the reader thought the book went on too long for me I didn’t want it to end and now I’m at a complete loss as to what to read next which is always the sign of a good book for me.

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