The title of John Irving’s latest novel is a declaration of its ambition. In One Person is an attempt to capture the harrowing personal journey of a single man as he finds his own sexual, emotional and even literary identity—and to capture it in a way that matters to every single person who picks up the novel. In that way, In One Person had to become a book not just about a single human being, but about every human being. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish, but as this novel unfolds with all the grace and power we’ve come to expect from John Irving, it’s clear that he’s done it.
At the heart of the novel is Billy, Irving’s narrator, a successful novelist reflecting on his life in old age. He begins his tale with the story of his fascination with the local librarian, an attraction that sparks both a sexual and literary awakening. From there we follow him through his high school and college years, on to his early successes and even into the early years of the AIDS crisis, when Billy—who is bisexual—watches his friends succumb to the disease.
Billy’s tale is an emotionally wrenching one, and Irving portrays it unflinchingly. He hones in on the most vital parts of his protagonist, drawing them out with vivid, bittersweet prose. In One Person never falls into the trap of becoming a preachy, issues-based novel. The issues are there, but the focus is on Billy, and on the fascinating and often confusing life he leads. That’s where the heart of the novel is, and Irving never strays.
In One Person is among the most challenging, dense novels Irving has ever produced, but readers willing to take the journey will find immense rewards. It’s a staggeringly ambitious work, and its success reaffirms Irving’s place among our greatest working novelists.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
What is "normal"? Does it really matter? In Irving's latest novel (after Last Night in Twisted River), nearly everyone has a secret, but the characters who embrace and accept their own differences and those of others are the most content. This makes the narrator, Bill, particularly appealing. Bill knows from an early age that he is bisexual, even if he doesn't label himself as such. He has "inappropriate crushes" but doesn't make himself miserable denying that part of himself; he simply acts, for better or for worse. The reader meets Bill at 15, living on the campus of an all-boys school in Vermont where his stepfather is on the faculty. Through the memories of a much older Bill, his life story is revealed, from his teenage years in Vermont to college and life as a writer in New York City. Bill is living in New York during the 1980s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and the suffering described is truly heart-wrenching. Irving cares deeply, and the novel is not just Bill's story but a human tale. VERDICT This wonderful blend of thought-provoking, well-constructed, and meaningful writing is what one has come to expect of Irving, and it also makes for an enjoyable page-turner. [See Prepub Alert, 11/28/11.]--Shaunna Hunter, Hampden-Sydney Coll. Lib., VA[Page 103]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Prep school. Wrestling. Unconventional sexual practices. Viennese interlude. This bill of particulars could only fit one American author: John Irving. His 13th novel (after Last Night in Twisted River) tells the oftentimes outrageous story of bisexual novelist Billy Abbott, who comes of age in the uptight 1950s and explores his sexuality through two decadent decades into the plague-ridden 1980s and finally to a more positive present day. Sexual confusion sets in early for Billy, simultaneously attracted to both the local female librarian and golden boy wrestler Jacques Kittredge, who treats Billy with the same disdain he shows Billy's best friend (and occasional lover) Elaine. Faced with an unsympathetic mother and an absent father who might have been gay, Billy travels to Europe, where he has affairs with a transgendered female and an older male poet, an early AIDS activist. Irving's take on the AIDS epidemic in New York is not totally persuasive (not enough confusion, terror, or anger), and his fractured time and place doesn't allow him to generate the melodramatic string of incidents that his novels are famous for. In the end, sexual secrets abound in this novel, which intermittently touches the heart as it fitfully illuminates the mutability of human desire. Agent: Dean Cooke, the Cooke Agency. (May)[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC