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VINE VOICEon December 8, 2013
Set in fictitious First Sister, Vermont, beginning in the mid-1950’s and continuing through five decades, this marginally satisfying novel follows the sexual awakening of young Billy Abbott at the all-boys Favorite River Academy and his first forays into that realm in the town’s library operated by “Miss” Frost. It is Billy’s new feelings that send him to the library for books on “dangerous crushes on the wrong person,” where he is smitten by striking, enigmatic Miss Frost. It is an intimate encounter with Miss Frost that marks the demarcation line for Billy’s life on the wrong side of gender conventions.

As unsettling, if not unpleasant, as Billy’s teenage years were, it is his family and friends from that time that stick with him: ranging from his helpless mother, imperious aunt, stepfather and director of plays at the Academy, and cross-dressing grandfather to members of the Academy wrestling team including the beautiful Jacques Kittredge, his understanding friend Elaine, and the provocative Miss Frost. The last half of the book rather vaguely follows Bill’s extensive wanderings around Europe and the US as a writer and academic, not to mention his numerous encounters with transgender individuals.

Of course, any novel focusing on the alternative sexual community set in the last decades of the 2000’s has to take on the subject of AIDS. Curiously enough, if not entirely believable, Bill has no worries due to his precautionary measures. As part of the author’s details from that world, Bill is a “top,” not a “bottom” – apparently a safe orientation. It is too convenient that nearly every close acquaintance of Bill’s at FR Academy becomes infected with AIDS. A big disappoint is that the main characters are merely sketched. The ephemeral Elaine is a solid force in Bill’s life but remains largely unknown. The charismatic Kittredge is no more than a shadowy presence. Beyond the Miss Frost segment of Bill’s life, the remainder is treated superficially by comparison. The reader scarcely has a feel for Bill’s writings. The reader is left feeling shortchanged by this book.
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on March 9, 2013
John Irving has been a best-selling novelist since The World According to Garp was published back in 1978. He has since written The Hotel New Hampshire, Cider House Rules, A Prayer For Owen Meany, A Widow For One Year, The Fourth Hand, and, of course, In One Person. He has written other books, but the above list gives you a general idea of this author’s great talent in the field of fiction. I should also point out that many of Mr. Irving’s novels have been produced as major films (Garp with Robin Williams, Cider House Rules with Michael Caine & Toby McGuire, Simon Birch with Ashley Judd and A Door in the Floor with Jeff Bridges and Kim Bassinger).

I personally consider John Irving to be one of the best mainstream writers of the 20th Century, who’s never afraid to tackle prejudice, sexual diversity, the institution of marriage, politics, the Vietnam War, and just about anything else that crosses his brilliant mind.

In One Person, which has just come out in a trade paperback, may be his best novel to date. It certainly deals with difficult subjects (homosexuality, bi-sexuality, cross-dressing, and AIDs) even in this day and time, and how it affects the life of one William “Billy” Dean from the early sixties to the present. This is definitely a novel that will have you thinking and questioning your belief system on what it means to be a male in 20th Century society. You will also see that prejudice exist in all facets of life, not only between straight men and gays, but also in the gay community itself. After reading this novel, I’m almost inclined to believe that prejudice in one form or another is in the genetic makeup of most human beings, based on their personal experiences with life. To paraphrase a line from the novel: “If one person, because of religion or lifestyle, is hated by everyone, then it’s likely that single individual will grow to hate everyone.” In fact, people can often be intolerant of the intolerance of others. That certainly fits me at times as a human being.

In One Person is narrated by William “Billy” Dean and begins when he’s a young boy, living in Vermont with his divorced mom in his grandparent’s home. No one will discuss his long-gone father, and he doesn’t understand why. The only thing Billy is told is that his mother divorced the man when she caught him kissing another person.

As Billy grows into a teenager and attends an all-boy's private academy, he finds himself sexually attracted to one of the wrestlers, Kittredge. He’s surprised by his unexpected emotions, and then amazed when he also develops a crush on his mom’s new boyfriend, Mr. Abbot, who happens to be a new teacher at the academy and handles the plays that are put on by the students. Of course, that isn’t the worse of it. Billy soon falls in love with the town librarian, Miss Frost, as well as finding himself drawn to his best friend’s mom. Billy is definitely a boy filled with turmoil at having a crush on all the wrong people, as he’s told by one of the adults in his life. Still, he can’t help what he feels.

In time and with age, Billy Dean comes to grips with his bi-sexuality. He finds out that his real father (his mom has married the teacher by then) was also attracted to the same sex. Ah, but that’s not all. Young Billy has an extremely brief affair with the local librarian, Miss Frost, only to discover that she’s actually a man. This only intensifies his love for her. Of course, as in most Irving novels, when a young man experiences what he feels is true love for another, it's usually short lived and the teenage never knows what might have been.

As Billy later experiences college and private life (I should point out that he becomes a writer), he experiences a new kind of prejudice amongst the gay crowd. It turns out that most gay men don’t like bi-sexual guys. It seems as if they believe a bi-sexual man is really a gay person who refuses to accept his sexual preferences, or to make a firm commitment to the lifestyle. Billy, however, has no problem with his sexual preferences. He likes both men and women, and isn’t afraid to admit it.

When the AIDs epidemic breaks out in the early eighties, Billy finds himself unable to get involved with helping those who have the disease and eventually die from it. He sees many of his former lovers pass away, but still remains an outsider. He doesn’t understand why he feels this sense of not being attached to the other men, but he is. In time, however, he’s inadvertently drawn in by those from his past. It doesn’t change his feelings about the suffering and inhumanity of this terrible disease, but it does give him a better understanding of his own personal loss and of the road less travelled.

Returning to his hometown to live when he’s in his sixties, Billy learns of the death of more of his friends and attempts to move on by becoming a part-time teacher at the academy. In truth, he finds himself taking up for a gay boy against a bunch of bullies, refusing to back down and finally able to use the infamous wrestling move (the duck-under) that was taught to him by Miss Frost, an ex-wrestler, and Coach Hoyt. Billy also learns that he has much more clout as a teacher at the academy, than as an outsider and so joins the staff. He inadvertently finds himself protecting those who need his assistance like Miss Frost once protected him. In a sense, everything comes full circle.

I believe what most individuals will walk away with after reading In One Person, is a clearer understanding that it’s the journey and not the destination that’s truly important. We’re born, we live for so many years and have so many experiences, and then we die. The important thing is what we do with the time in between birth and death, and how we choose to treat those around us.

The author, John Irving, is certainly a master of prose, using words to weave a compelling story of a boy’s journey into manhood as he attempts to discover who he is and how his past has affected him. The wonderful thing about Mr. Irving’s novels is that he causes the reader to care about the characters and in many ways to see themselves within the story. You laugh, you cry, you get angry and want retribution, you forgive, but most of all, you learn to be tolerant of all the intolerances you encountered within the pages.

You see, Mr. Irving is still a teacher at heart and uses words to instill within a reader a profound sense of empathy for those around him. To read one of John Irving’s novels is to experience life in all its glory and misery, reaching that last page with a clearer understanding of what it means to be human.

This is the author’s gift to mankind.
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on January 1, 2015
I have great admiration for John Irving’s In One Person. But I wanted to love it. Irving is one of our best contemporary authors, considered by some a literary giant. The clips from reviews of this book, in the edition I read, proclaim it a masterpiece and the writing “rich and absorbing…even beautiful.” Irving packs the novel with much to ponder. I applaud his theme of acceptance and tolerance. I rejoice at his extensive instructive writing about the LBGTQ community. I find his exploration of bi-sexuality to be both informative and refreshing. I particularly think that his discussion of AIDS and its devastation is handled quite well, being educational and heart-wrenching. As a gay man, I am glad that these subjects are being covered so well in a mainstream novel. I also like his use of wrestling as a metaphor for not only the characters’ lot in life and mental conditions, but also I like the hyper-masculinity of the wrestling metaphor as it is applied to the LBGTQ characters. So why did I not love this book? Sometimes a writer just doesn’t connect with a reader. Note that I use “a” instead of “the.” I may be the one person in the world to whom Irving’s writing doesn’t speak (which, in itself, is an inadequate description, for I’ve just enumerated the ways in which the author spoke to me.) I, the reader, never got in sync with Irving’s rhythm, and therein lies my problem, not Irving’s. I found the book tedious. There, I said it: an admission that I have failed as a reader, and I am deeply sorry that I failed so miserably that I’m not sure I will ever pick up another of John Irving’s novels. And another thing that pains me is that I, a writer and a teacher of literature, cannot figure out the obvious symbol that Irving uses constantly. He has several characters who have trouble pronouncing certain words. He makes it very clear that their pronunciation problems are psychological, yet I cannot see the reason for his use of this. Ah, how I must ponder on that, for I know that understanding will come to me eventually. Until then, I say that this is a book worth reading. Just don’t expect to “get into it” immediately. Or maybe you will. As I said, not loving it may just be my problem.
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on February 9, 2014
I've been a John Irving fan for 30 plus years, but the last two I've read...sorry, I've got to hang it up. The World According Garp was great, Ciderhouse Rules was a masterpiece IMO, A prayer for Owen Meany was outstanding, The Hotel New Hampshire, a classic, but the last two I read, Until I find you and this novel, In One Person, reminded me too much of the themes of his earlier works, which seem repetitive and are always fixated on a single mother with a screw loose and a poor misunderstood boy.

No, I'll read something with a new, interesting theme from now on. I don't really get what he was getting at in this novel anyway. Why so many cross-dressers, transgendered, bi-sexual men in this small New England town that know how to wrestle? He should have written on discovering the hormonal waste being dumped into the towns water supply by a pharm company with few scruples.
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on December 23, 2015
Considering this book comes from Simon & Schuster, I'm amazed at how poorly it was edited. It was aunt Muriel and Aunt Muriel instead of consistently the latter, which is correct; WTH? Maybe the editor was drunk when they did this job?

Some of the dialog drove me nuts; everyone used everyone's proper name all the time. This is down to the editor again; it should have been corrected. The first forty or so pages were all over the place, making it hard to get into the story. Again, good editing would have helped with that. Also: too many exclamation marks!

As for the book itself: not one of Irving's best (and I've read many of them), though I did like the MC, and his approach to gender and sexual orientation was refreshing and non-judgmental. There were parts where I laughed out loud. However, I think many readers would find this a hard slog. I suggest a strong re-edit and re-release.
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on August 15, 2015
I think John Irving is one of the best writers alive today. Overall, this was not among my favorites when it comes to his books. So, among John Irving books, I'd say this is just okay, but among the many books I read every year, I'd say this is among the top 25 percent. Therefore, I'm giving it a four-star rating. For me, The Cider House Rules, World According to Garp, Hotel New Hampshire and Last Night in Twisted River are all five star books.

This book is heavily focused on the bisexuality of the narrator. In my opinion, it is too heavily focused on that aspect of his character and as a result, we lose the other dimensions of his character. In a way it is ironic because the book emphasizes the importance of not defining a person by their sexual preferences and gender identity. For that very wise point, I applaud John Irving.

I also thought the incorporation of the devastating impact of the early days of the AIDS crisis makes this a book worth reading.
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on January 8, 2014
Billie, the protagonist, is bisexual. He is neither shy nor conflicted, but he's had it with the way some members of his family treat him. The story begins when Billie, a.k.a William Marshall Abbott, recalls the story of his life as he has grown old, nearing his 70th birthday.

Billie began his life as William Francis Dean, but after his stepfather adopted him, his last name changed to Abbott. This is fine with Billie, as one of the three most important people that he is sexually attracted to is his stepfather. The other one is a librarian, Miss Frost, who was a famous wrestler once, when he was a man, in the private academy Billie attends, but Billie learns this truth later in the story. The third important person is his best friend, a girl about his own age. But not only a handful of people have different sexual stances in Bille's life. There is also his cross-dressing grandfather, his biological father, his boyfriends, and several other people he meets later in life.

The story fluctuates from the time when Billie is an old man to his young days, and throughout its many twists and turns, Billie is involved with one or another of the most important people.

Yet, the story does not only reflect Billie's sexual history. It also addresses dysfunction in families, single parenthood, loss that comes with maturing, AIDS tragedy especially during the eighties, being a writer, sexual identity, and being misunderstood.

The novel is strong and forceful with its insight and the way it handles reality. The author knows what he is talking about, and his grasp of the emotions of a teen who is made miserable by the ignorant people around him is superb.

In One Person is a serious novel, one of the most serious I have ever read, not only for its subject matter but also for the wonderful prose that is straightforward yet full of sentiment, from sadness to humor, as only John Irving would be able to pen. It is also highly literary, with an epic plot that is rich, bold, stimulating, gripping, and fascinating.
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on December 5, 2012
I read somewhere that this was Irving's most political book since 'Cider House Rules'. It probably is. A few things though. There seems to be an inordinately large LGBT(Q) population in the tiny town of Favorite River. ...not that there's anything wrong with that, but it felt a bit contrived.

Second. I feel like both of these themes have been better executed in 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' (friendship, the idea of being a 'Joseph' [in this case bi-], even the FAMILY is the same, but with less love) and 'A Widow for One Year', which tackles a man's lifelong obsession and longing for an older woman that shapes his life.

That being said I think that this is a fabulous novel for the subject matter that it tackles. It's warm and funny, the characters are largely likable. The best part of this novel is the way that it takes on the 1980's AIDS epidemic and completely humanizes it. Like the AIDS Quilt in DC, it's a great reminder that those who suffered (and are suffering) are NOT just statistics.

Definitely worth the read, even if it's not his best.
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on October 6, 2012
One reason that I read John Irving is the fact that he makes me think. He shows me something about life that I might not otherwise see or know about. This book is about sexuality - not the romance novel "girl meets guy and they live happily every after" type of sexuality. It is about sexual differences and through Irving's loving treatment of the characters, he encourages us to embrace those differences even if we don't understand them and can't identify with them. It is a book about secrets - secrets within a family and a boy who grows up lonely and wondering what the adults know that they aren't sharing. Billy is bisexual, his grandfather is a cross-dresser, his first love, Ms. Frost, is a transgender woman and he grows up in the world of AIDS. It is an amazing book with a theatrical cast of characters who made me laugh and cry and who bumped along through life in spite of it all. Read it and see how gender orientation is not what defines us as human beings but, rather the way we treat others and how we cope with differences - our own and those of others. A beautiful book.
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on April 26, 2013
This book grabbed me on the first page. The chapters that get inside Billy's head as a child and teenager are sometimes brilliant. His observations of adults often droll. Many characters are engaging. The book is thought provoking about what forms sexual identity and whether it is mutable, not to mention the degree to which society defines an individual by real or perceived orientation(s). Given the recent Supreme Court arguments on DOMA and California's Prop 8, it is timely.

But...... The introduction of some characters seems extraneous other than to wrap up a somewhat messy plot. Loose ends are wrapped up in tidy and sometimes unlikely ways. Major characters vanish and reappear almost randomly, as if there is a checklist to be sure each one is followed to the end (theirs or the story's).

I can't say that I am sorry I stuck with it to the end, but can't help thinking that my time could have been better spent on another book.
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