Wrestling With Sexuality   9 comments

Similar themes, character types and unusual situations find their way to John Irving novels. His latest, In One Person, is no exception. Despite these commonalities, it’s an original look at acceptance and the secrets families hide in plain view, particularly when it comes to sex. The most covert issue is the sexuality of young Billy Abbott, the protagonist/narrator. Billy struggles with this; it’s also something family members have insight into but refuse to reveal – hoping they’re wrong. Yet all around him are mixed messages, from Billy’s loveable cross-dressing grandfather to the cruel teenage wrestling superstar. Billy’s story spans more than 50 years, and it’s clear his family’s hopes were dashed. Billy isn’t gay, he’s bi-sexual, but that’s not what they’re hiding.

Among the characters populating Irving’s novel are angry mothers (several), wrestlers (many), and transgenders (numerous, although Billy’s generation used the term transsexuals). A residential boys school in rural Vermont  – another typical Irving element – is among the settings. Perhaps the strongest of the similarities is the power of friendship. Billy’s true friends are an eccentric bunch with shared worries. The complicated town librarian (my favorite character) probably knows Billy best.

The novel is like a one-sided conversation Billy has with the reader. Billy repeats some details, tells some things out of sequence and offers a few teasers. As in his other work, Irving’s irony and descriptive writing prevail.

A Prayer for Owen Meany is not just my favorite book by Irving, it’s one of my favorite books by anyone. In One Person is not on that pedestal, but it’s close.

In One Person
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2012
425 pages


9 responses to “Wrestling With Sexuality

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  1. In One Person was my first John Irving and it left me unmoved. I thought I was going to love it, but didn’t. I wonder if it may have resonated more if I were more familiar with his other work.

  2. Nice little review =) I love Irving, he is my favorite novelist. I have In One Person, but haven’t read it yet. I like to spread out my reading of Irving books, put at least a few months between reading one for the first time. Cider House Rules is my favorite, but his “Big Four”–Garp, Hotel New Hampshire, Cider House, and Owen Meany–are all masterpieces in my opinion. I’d love for you to check out my blog–I did a nice tribute to Irving here:


    –Love and Liberation–

    Jan @ TheRewildWest

  3. The woman who introduced me to Irving–my high school drama teacher–by giving me her copy of Garp when I graduated, Owen Meany is her all-time favorite as welll =)

  4. It’s nice to finally read a review of this, I keep picking it up but not quite buying it. I’m not sure why I’ve hesitated since I love “The World According to Garp” more than I should.

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