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.”
"A profound truth is arrived at in these pages. It is Irving at his most daring, at his most ambitious. It is America and American writing, both at their very best.” (Abraham Verghese) "His most daringly political, sexually transgressive, and moving novel in well over a decade." (Vanity Fair) “In One Person is a rich and absorbing book, even beautiful.” (Esquire)
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Usually, Irving's timing is about a decade behind current events: Garp's women's equality, Owen Meany and the Viet Nam war, abortion and the Cider House Rules, but with In One Person he is the ram-rod pounding on the doors for the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) rights movement; he is bringing it all out of the dark corners, laying it on the table, and telling us "Don't look away!" What I've learned from reading Irving is that a decade of reflection, on even the most confrontational polarizing issues, gives us hindsight; it softens the edges. Perhaps Irving decided (at least concerning equality for LGBTQ) "what we need even more than hindsight or foresight is--insight" right now. My question is rather or not we come away from this novel with that insight.
Present in this novel are all of the Irving hallmarks you come to expect after you've read a few of his books: the writer, the older woman, a stay abroad, the wrestler, absent father, even a "bear" of sorts, and of course the sexuality, all embodied by larger than life Dickensonian characters that Irving does so wonderfully. But besides the fact that the men weren't men, the women weren't women, and the bears weren't bears, something was missing for me--the characters weren't believable, they weren't emotionally congruent, the town seemed quietly complicit then unaccepting, the women were empty or bitchy. AND then there is the sex...
I get that the challenge in reading this book is to look beyond our personal predilections, biasses, definitions, to grasp the message that is more important than our own comfort zones. Good at ya Mr. Irving for having the courage to write a thought provoking novel on this important issue...I'm one of your biggest fans and probably responsible for the sale of a couple hundred copies of A Prayer for Owen Meany....BUT...
I was so disappointed by the gratuitous and titallating way Irving treated the sex between the transgender, bisexual, gay people--as if it were just a crude physical act, promiscuous and raunchy, including an olfactory element (that added nothing to the political statement he was making); he discusses the bars, the bears, the bowels, the fists, the trolling, (and the "ballroom" vaginas) but none of the meaningful relationships, the love or committment--it ends up (npi) being nothing less than ugly pornography between vacuous licentious queens. Of course, the violence and hatred that we inflict upon those that don't share our personal predilections is uglier, and Irving almost redeems himself with a powerful and moving reflections of the AIDS epidemic and how the public turned it's back on the victims. (why I gave 3* instead of 2).
In One Person will probably be heralded by many as a beacon for change-a brave and thought provoking novel. It was my least favorite Irving novel; I almost didn't like it, and it is definitely not for anyone that is not comfortable with alternate sexuality presented in a very harsh manner. (I think even some of my LGBT friends will be disheartened by the portrayal.)So, did I come away with the insight intended?--I think so, but not with the eloquence usually offered by John Irving.
Oh I so love John Irving's work, I love his books that other people either have never heard of or didn't like. I so wanted to love this one too, but it fell short I thought. This book has it all.... an adorable cross dressing Grandpa(my favorite character), a coming of age good looking main character, a private boys school, a Norwegian who hunts deer on skis, lots of references to Shakespeare, details of many dying a slow painful death from aids, a fatal car accident, a crush on a step-father, an angry mother, an angry aunt, a transgender librarian who has sex with a child, gay bars, a trip to Europe, a missing absent father, a handsome sexy high school bully, gay sex, straight sex, transvestites, bisexuals, heterosexuals, a boy who slept with his mom, a funny story of meeting the love of a lifetime, narrow minded people, forward thinking people, oh and of course wrestlers and it is all set in my beautiful state Vermont. So what's not to like? Well I'm really not sure and as I write this review. I am finding it hard to articulate what I saw as the problem. I can say that maybe it was too much, too much wanting to make the point. Also I really couldn't wait for the book to end, I was pretty bored though much of the story. I am so disappointed. I think the premise is terrific, I can see how this book could have been wonderful and rich. But it just fell short. Somehow Irving missed the mark this time, it was like he was trying too hard. And I have to mention that I was bothered when the adult had sex (the Bill Clinton kind ) with a child and the focus of outrage was the fact that the adult was transgender, not the child abuse; this went unnoticed. So Mr. Irving I still love your work and I am so proud you live and work and write about our state, albeit fictional towns, so please give us another A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Fourth Hand, Cider House Rules....just be you... no need to try so hard, let it flow................