In One Person

John Irving delivers another complexly beautiful and tragicomic (I stole that word from the inside flap) novel. In One Person is an account of the life of a bisexual man, from his adolescent years in the sixties spanning into the present age, as told in the first person by our protagonist (and “hero,” as his grandfather would call him) William “Billy” Abbott. Billy spends the novel figuring out where he fits in the world since he likes women and men—and transsexuals.

The subject of bisexuality is one that I think nearly everyone struggles with, especially as concerns guys who are bisexual (straight men love their women to have a little Katy Perry lesbian inside of them). Billy clearly knows how trying it is to be taken seriously as bi man. Yet it is far more difficult for everyone else to accept him as a bisexual than it is for Billy to accept himself (especially in that small Vermont town). Why is it that we never believe that someone can truly want to have sex with both a man and women equally? The novel opened my eyes up to many things, and bisexuality is certainly one of them.

Never before has Irving had such a homosexually-slanted novel, yet that doesn’t mean he has ignored his favorite recurring subjects. The novel has plenty of New England, Wrestling, Writers, Vienna and Sexual Variations (and he even squeezes in a deadly accident, an absent parent, and a screenwriter); but, alas, there are no bears—which are his most bizarre obsession—in this novel. In One Person, like all of Irving’s novels, tells an expansive story and it is hard to write about any one particular part without an in-depth description. It is, of course, never hard to point out that Irving has created yet another book full of amazing characters that have so much depth (he most resembles Charles Dickens in that aspect).

I will suffice to say that Irving does great justice to the topics he addresses, and I was deeply affected by the novel. Some of his plot conventions and story conceits felt predictable and rehashed, but only because he had done those things in his previous books (yet another way he resembles the inestimable Dickens). The story feels more like The Hotel New Hampshire, while still being as topical and political as The Cider House Rules (both of which are exceptional Irving novels).

I consider John Irving one of the best authors still writing today (he is unafraid to “clutter” the page with punctuation marks—he seemingly revels in it); and I will be hard-pressed to find a better novel released in 2012.

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  1. Giovanni’s Room « The JK Review
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