Elderly (1932), retired university professor, degrees in engineering and economics.
I have been a devoted fan of John Irving for decades. He has the rare talent needed to wrap hard issues in literate laughter. In One Person is Vintage Irving. His signature symbols and character types are all present. As in his earlier books, from Garp through Twisted River, Irving continues to address socio/political controversies thoughtfully and fearlessly.
The themes in this book remind us of Robert/Roberta the pro football player defender of Nurse Jenny, of Dr. Larch, the non-practicing homosexual who gave women choices and orphans second chances, of Frannie who learned how to live after gang rape, of Owen who tried to understand his religious parents as he lived out his own dream and even of the twisted multi-generational hatreds in Twisted River. And bears, of course.
It is set in a private boys (originally) school in New England where we are reminded of elderly professors freezing in the snow and of warm, padded wrestling rooms, and a year in Vienna. And while it is fun to encounter the archetypes from his previous books, the social and political questions still remain to be explored and confronted. As he carefully built his arguments for questioning the “status quo” opinions, social norms, natural morals and blind prejudices of earlier generations about prostitution, abortion, sexual orientation, women’s rights, racial justice, child abuse, the handicapped etc, he again argues for Questioning and questing and for sympathy. In Irving’s words, don’t categorize me before you even know me. He asks for tolerance, even for tolerance of the intolerant. To all of this, add Irving’s tragicomIc writing genius and his story telling skills and we have another thoughtful provocative John Irving book. It’s great!
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.
Knowledge is knowing the way. Wisdom is looking for an alternative, more interesting road to get there. Audiobooks are that road.
I’m not a John Irving fan per say, so I do not have the insight into his writing that so many other reviewers commented on. At first I found the novel to be a little extreme, with just too many sexually diverse characters in the same small town, all related or connected in some way. Was there something in the drinking water? The quick introduction of one character after the next all gets sandwiched between Shakespearean plays that did nothing for me. I found it difficult to keep everyone straight (excuse the pun).
The narrator, Billy Abbott is a 70 year old man telling his coming of age story and describing his life and the people who come in, stay for a while, sometimes have sex in all different ways, and then leave. I did not feel an emotional attachment to any of the characters. I found them interesting and enjoyed watching them from afar, but never felt a connection to any of them. Not even Billy. Where’s the romance? There was no real, sink your teeth into, love story among any of these people. It was almost like the homosexual, bisexual, transgender, cross-dressing, questioning people of the world are in it for the sex only. I believe Irving was trying to make a point, to teach tolerance, but for me he missed the mark. Love is universal among any sexual preference and perhaps that’s how he should have made his connection.
The last third of the book hooked me far more. That’s when Billy’s friends started dying of aids. That’s when the real emotion came across. That feeling that hooks me into a book, that connects me to the characters was absent in most of this novel. Sorry all you John Irving fans, although it was good enough to keep me going, this one fell a little short for me.
John Benjamin Hickey did a superb job with the narration.
I believe a reviewer should finish a book before submitting a review. What do you think?
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................
John Irving treats his characters with respect. This is not voyuerism or sniggering in an alley at outrageous behaviour, it is an honest, funny and human treatment of a life that needs to be met on its own terms. I love this author and Mr. Hickey does a great job with the material. This is a great an worthwhile listen.
As with previous reviews, not for those offended by strong sexuality. Some of the jumping around at points within the narrator's life got confusing--I realize future happenings related to things in the past, but sometimes difficult to place things in a line.
I thought the pace of the story was quick and succinct, and the narration was well done. Of course there are great characters, the hallmark of Irving.
Point of contention with a previous reviewer. A complaint was made about a sexual encounter between a younger and older person (trying not to be a spoiler), and that this "abuse of a minor" was the key issue, rather than gender issues. I would like to point out that the youger person was 18 at the time, but still living with parents. I don't believe this constitutes sexual abuse legally or otherwise.
This is another book that makes me wish that we had a book club for discussion. It's courageous, readable, passionate and it's difficult to put down. And, as always with John Irving, it's easy to read, familiar, intimate even.
If I didn't give it a full 5-star rating, it's because I want the main character to be a straight arrow (pardon the unintended pun), an advocate for those who live non-heterosexual lives, someone who is unimpeachable. But Bill Abbott is a bit self-centered.... Here is a man for whom others have risked and lost a lot to fight for him and he makes no effort to see them again, to seek them out. Even at the bed side of a dying man, he will be the star.
That said, many in his circle of friends and relatives are wonderful. They are the bricks of this powerful story.
I'm writing this review having set this book down. I did not set it down due to the subject matter, which is heavey on homoeroticism and transgender or LGBT subjects. That wasnt' the problem. I've read many of John Irving's books and enjoyed them condsiderably. His "thing" of self-reference and repetition of characters, places, and themes works for a suite of novels, but here, it just seems tired. He revisits his self-stated practice as a "re-qriter" to a fault, and it just seems self-indulgent, tired, and to be quite frank, boring. Irving is an excellent writer, and his voice is quite clear here. To those who are fans of his turns of phrase, and character creations, they may enjoy this novel. Where this novel lacks is in a dynamic narrative. It is much more or a character study than his other novels, but it seems to ask of the reader to care in the same way about a number of characters across a great breadth of time. I don't care. He didn't make me care. I found his characters uninteresting and the narrative totally flat. booooooooooo.
Irving jumped too quickly into his sage places of both character and setting to deal with a difficult subject. I found his description of the bisexual experience and the description of the historical LGBT to be well researched, but totally disingenusous.
"Over-reach" is an easy descriptor for this and some of Irving's other books. He has some fantastic novels, but is not ifallible. This book is falling heavy upon the success of "The World According to Gap", and "Hotel New Hampshire", and has nothing on them. As an extension of that, while Irving has proven in his bnovels that rewriting and revisiting memesc can work, it just makes him semm lazy and self indulgent in this one.
Depends on the friend. The subject matter is not for everyone! :)
perhaps a book on G
Avid audible listener for over 10 years.
Maybe not. I have read everyone of his books and he has been my favorite author.
This sounds so much like a prayer for Owen Meany. The whole setting is almost identical, a single mom, a private school in New England, the plays, etc. His Books are always similar, but this was way too close to what I consider his best, Owen Meany. Maybe he should cowrite a book within Steven King to spice things up. This could have been titled Owen Meany, the Sequel.
Good reader, and liked his performance. The issue is the material.