In One Person

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Overview

“His most daringly political, sexually transgressive, and moving novel in well over a decade” (Vanity Fair).

A New York Times bestselling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love—tormented, funny, and affecting—and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character of In One Person, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a “sexual suspect,” a ...

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In One Person

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Overview

“His most daringly political, sexually transgressive, and moving novel in well over a decade” (Vanity Fair).

A New York Times bestselling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love—tormented, funny, and affecting—and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character of In One Person, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a “sexual suspect,” a phrase first used by John Irving in 1978 in his landmark novel of “terminal cases,” The World According to Garp.

In One Person is a poignant tribute to Billy’s friends and lovers—a theatrical cast of characters who defy category and convention. Not least, In One Person is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself “worthwhile.”

Co-winner of the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Literature

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In what has been called his most political novel since The Cider House Rules, John Irving invites us into the lives of Billy, a secretive bisexual man, and his numerous friends and lovers. Rendered in its main character's voice, In One Person offers a poignant view of men and women who spend their lives in half-concealed subcultures. A moving novel by a major American author; now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

The New York Times Book Review - Jeanette Winterson
In One Person gives a lot. It’s funny, as you would expect. It’s risky in what it exposes.…Tolerance, in a John Irving novel, is not about anything goes. It’s what happens when we face our own desires honestly, whether we act on them or not.”
The Washington Post
“There’s a talent at work in this brave new novel that — as Prospero said — ‘frees all faults.’ ”
The New York Times Book Review
In One Person gives a lot. It’s funny, as you would expect. It’s risky in what it exposes.…Tolerance, in a John Irving novel, is not about anything goes. It’s what happens when we face our own desires honestly, whether we act on them or not.
— Jeanette Winterson
The Washington Post
There’s a talent at work in this brave new novel that — as Prospero said — ‘frees all faults.’
Ron Charles
…the sophisticated and garish elements of In One Person are laced together in an act of literary transvestism…[the] wonderful first section of the novel shows what a ringmaster Irving can be. His looping chronology gives the impression of aimless digression only until we catch up and find him on the trail of some larger truth. The story swings confidently from the burlesque comedy of Billy's dolled-up grandfather to the poignant anxiety of the boy's sexual confusion. And it's full of insights about classic theatre and novels, all gracefully integrated into Billy's struggle to figure out what kind of person he is.
—The Washington Post
Jeanette Winterson
In its fierceness and its joyfulness, In One Person has the feeling of The World According to GarpIn One Person gives a lot. It's funny, as you would expect. It's risky in what it exposes.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
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)
From the Publisher
#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER
INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER 
FINALIST 2013 – Lambda Literary Bisexual Literature Award

 
“This searching, deeply affecting novel…reaffirms the centrality of Irving as the voice of social justice and compassion in contemporary American literature. His work has been indispensible over the past four decades, and it will prove more important, more urgently resonant and more prescient, in the decades to come.”
—Steven Hayward, The Globe and Mail
 
“At once intimate and epic, broadly funny and emotionally piercing.... Irving is simply doing what he has always done, and what he does best: telling a bold, quirky, fundamentally human story, bigger than life.”
The Vancouver Sun
 
“A rich and absorbing book, even beautiful, and probably the most different book of Irving’s long career.”
Esquire
 
“Irving at his best: unbearably sad, unforgettably narrated, painfully human.”
USA Today
 
“Billy Abbott is a character to set alongside those indelible Irving creations of the past, Garp and Owen Meany and Homer Wells.... You root for him from the outset. And when his story visits on him some of the more outrageous fates that Irving can conjure, you don’t give up on him…. It is another of this writer’s bold hymns to individuality, to the great American quest of self-discovery.... As the book triumphantly suggests, difference is one problem shared by everybody.”
The Observer
 
In One Person, as a story about sexual differences among people, has real potential to help effect positive change for gay and trans people, especially in the US. This is the novel I selfishly wish Irving had written 25 years ago.”
Xtra! (Toronto)
 
“Irving’s gift is to make us care about characters that mainstream society relegates to the margins…. Heart-rending. Irving fans will welcome In One Person .”
Toronto Star
 
“Irving is a master at getting his sense of place to feel special…. Ribald, engaging, measured and slightly eccentric. In other words, it’s John Irving being John Irving.”
National Post
 
“In its fierceness and its joyfulness, In One Person has the feeling of The World According to Garp.... In One Person gives a lot. It’s funny, as you would expect. It’s risky in what it exposes.”
—Jeanette Winterson, The New York Times Book Review
 
“This tender exploration of nascent desire, of love and loss, manages to be sweeping, brilliant, political, provocative, tragic, and funny—it is precisely the kind of astonishing alchemy we associate with a John Irving novel. The unfolding of the AIDS epidemic in the United States in the ’80s was the defining moment for me as a physician. With my patients’ deaths, almost always occurring in the prime of life, I would find myself cataloging the other losses—namely, what these people might have offered society had they lived the full measure of their days: their art, their literature, the children they might have raised. In One Person is the novel that for me will define that era. A profound truth is arrived at in these pages. It is Irving at his most daring, at his most ambitious. It is America and American writing, both at their very best.” 
—Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone and My Own Country
 
In One Person is a novel that makes you proud to be human. It is a book that not only accepts but also loves our differences. From the beginning of his career, Irving has always cherished our peculiarities—in a fierce, not a saccharine, way. Now he has extended his sympathies—and ours—still further into areas that even the misfits eschew. Anthropologists say that the interstitial—whatever lies between two familiar opposites—is usually declared either taboo or sacred. John Irving in this magnificent novel—his best and most passionate since The World According to Garp—has sacralized what lies between polarizing genders and orientations. And have I mentioned it is also a gripping page-turner and a beautifully constructed work of art?”
—Edmund White, author of City Boy and Genet: A Biography

The New York Times Book Review
In One Person gives a lot. It's funny, as you would expect. It's risky in what it exposes.…Tolerance, in a John Irving novel, is not about anything goes. It's what happens when we face our own desires honestly, whether we act on them or not.”
— Jeanette Winterson
Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews
Billy Dean (aka Billy Abbott) has a difficult time holding it together in one person, for his bisexuality pulls him in (obviously) two different directions. Billy comes of age in what is frequently, and erroneously, billed as a halcyon and more innocent age, the 1950s. The object of his first love--or at least his first "sexual awakening"-- is Miss Frost, the librarian at the municipal library in the small town of First Sister, Vt. While Miss Frost's small breasts and large hands might have been a tip-off--and the fact that in a previous life she had been known as Al Frost--Billy doesn't quite get it until several years later, when the librarian seduces him. At almost the same time he becomes aware of Miss Frost as an erotic object, he develops an adolescent attraction to Jacques Kittredge, athlete and general Golden Boy at the academy they attend. And Billy also starts to have conflicted feelings toward Elaine, daughter of a voice teacher attached to the academy. (As Irving moves back and forth over the different phases of Billy's sexual life, we find he later consummates, but not happily, his relationship with Elaine.) We also learn of Billy's homoerotic relationships with Tom, a college friend, and with Larry, a professor Billy had studied with overseas. And all of these sexual attractions and compulsions play out against the background of Billy's unconventional family (his grandfather was known for his convincing portrayals of Shakespeare heroines--and he began to dress these parts offstage as well) and local productions of Shakespeare and Ibsen. Woody Allen's bon mot about bisexuality is that it doubled one's chances for a date, but in this novel Irving explores in his usual discursive style some of the more serious and exhaustive consequences of Allen's one-liner.
The Barnes & Noble Review

It's open for debate which make preferable book club selections — the books you're eager to read anyway or the riskier but possibly serendipitous unknowns you might never crack otherwise. John Irving's thirteenth novel falls into the can't-wait-to-read category for many, but that's only partly why I've selected it for this month's column. In One Person, an expansive, occasionally flamboyant tale of mutable, multifaceted sexuality, bias, and the AIDS crisis, is a far from perfect work of fiction. But my mission is to flag books that are not just captivating but are conversational lubricants — and this new novel should certainly stimulate discussion.

Irving's most political book since The Cider-House Rules is narrated by a bisexual novelist named William Abbott, who finds it impossible to satisfy all his desires with a single gender, never mind just one person. Like Irving, Billy, as he's called, was born in March 1942 — which means his life spans seismic changes in attitudes towards sex. He grows up in the anachronistically tolerant small town of First Sister, Vermont, hanging around the local amateur theatre in which his homophobic single mother is the prompter and his beloved grandfather specializes in cross-dressing roles. Billy doesn't remember his father, who left after his mother caught him kissing "someone else."

Billy's life changes when his mother marries the wonderful young drama teacher at the somewhat preciously named local all-boys' boarding school, Favorite River Academy. Richard Abbott not only adopts him but turns him on to reading — and that's not all — by taking him to the town library (previously off-limits, for reasons we later learn). There, Billy becomes smitten with marvelous Miss Frost, the, imperious, big-boned, small- breasted librarian. "We are formed by what we desire," he writes, realizing later that "this moment of my sexual awakening also marked the fitful birth of my imagination." His narrative tracks the evolution of both over more than 50 years.

Not surprising in a book about a novelist, the erotic charge first gets worked out through a reading list. Thirteen-year-old Billy's initial library request is for books about crushes "on the wrong people?dangerous crushes." Miss Frost starts him off with Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Tom Jones. Later, she steers "William," as only she calls him, to Great Expectations, Madame Bovary, and, finally, James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room — novels that are discussed in some depth. Meta- fiction alert: In One Person is, among other things, about the power of literature.

Another, less distinctive character is Billy's lifelong best friend, sometime lover, and fellow writer, Elaine Hadley, who shares his unhealthy obsession with cruel Jacques Kittredge, star of both wrestling and stage at the Academy. The mystery of what becomes of Kittredge after graduation is one of the novel's driving forces. Irving is famous for never starting a book until he knows where he's going; this time around, readers are likely to suss out several of his destinations before his narrator does.

Readers will also recognize many of Irving's pet themes: boys with absent, unknown fathers; angry single mothers; all-male New England prep schools; the influence of Shakespeare and Dickens; cross-dressing actors; and, of course, wrestling. (When Billy is taught a defensive move called a "duck- under," you know he's bound to use it eventually — like the proverbial gun on a mantel.)

Lust, as in so many of Irving's novels, is punished with mutilation. (Remember the outrageous oral sex accident in The World According to Garp?) This time, it takes the especially horrendous form of AIDS — which Irving stresses is as undeserved and unacceptable as homophobia and intolerance. Given the astonishing number of Billy's former lovers and friends who are stricken, he seems neither as terrified nor as depressed as one would think. He shows up at numerous deathbeds, but as in his numerous affairs, he's oddly detached and ready to move on. The unfortunate result is that the growing casualty list starts to feel like narrative expedience, a series of quick wrap-ups. Richard comments, "If you live long enough, Bill — it's a world of epilogues." This evokes another memorable, apt Irving catchphrase: "In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases."

More than actual sex, there's lots of talk of the changing vocabulary of sex, which could make a rich starting point for discussion of shifting attitudes: "sissies," "effeminate cross-dressing boys," and a man who's "a little light in his loafers" are all performers, both on- and offstage. Billy flags how the terms "pitchers" and "catchers" morph into "tops" and "bottoms," while "transsexual" is replaced by "transgender." With his widening experience, he writes of "trannies," "intercrural sex" (between thighs, the trick no doubt pulled off in David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly), and some funny interchanges about vaginas. Irving's narrator repeatedly underscores how his bisexuality renders him suspect to gay men, who think he's still got one foot in the closet, and to straight women, who worry he'll be doubly tempted to leave them, for either sex.

In One Person celebrates human variety with Irving's trademark narrative exuberance. I have to warn you, however, that all the exposition and scenery arranging in the jumpy opening chapters nearly exhausted my patience. Stick with it — even through the overlong discussions of amateur and student productions of Shakespeare and Ibsen. Irving is building to a tragicomic exploration and impassioned defense of people with sexual differences — ever-threatened, he feels, by the puritanical and intolerant. While gay and lesbian fiction has become more mainstream in recent decades, literature about male bisexuality is still relatively rare. By portraying his characters' polymorphous sexuality in a good-humored, unsensational light, Irving tones down the deliberately outlandish freakishness that colors most of his books. The takeaway here is Miss Frost's admonition to Billy, which he later throws back at a hostile young man: "My dear boy, please don't put a label on me — don't make me a category before you get to know me!"

If you're interested in further reading, Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out, edited by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Ka'ahumanu, is a rich anthology of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by bisexual men and women, still considered vital more than 20 years after its publication. Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex is an extraordinary novel about both national and sexual identity, as much about emigrating between countries as between genders. Virginia Woolf's 1928 novel, Orlando: A Biography, about a gender-shifting character whose life spans centuries, is based in part on Woolf's lover, Vita Sackville-West, and has become a classic of gender studies. For literature about AIDS, Tony Kushner's powerful play Angels in America deals with the emotional and spiritual ravages of this dreadful plague on characters that include closeted gay men and their lovers and families. Finally, one of my favorite books on any subject is Michael Cunningham's gorgeous novel The Hours, in which a gay poet's heartbreaking death is refracted through Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. All of these works, like In One Person, confront what novelists have been grappling with since Samuel Richardson's Clarissa: the centrality of desire in human experience. Or, as Irving's narrator puts it, how "We are formed by what we desire."

Heller McAlpin is a New York–based critic who reviews books for NPR.org, The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, and other publications.

Reviewer: Heller McAlpin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451664133
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 1/29/2013
  • Pages: 425
  • Sales rank: 121,587
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

John Irving

The World According to Garp, which won the National Book Award in 1980, was John Irving’s fourth novel and his first international bestseller. Irving’s novels are now translated into thirty-five languages, and he has had nine international bestsellers. In One Person is John Irving’s thirteenth novel.

Biography

It was as a struggling, withdrawn student at Phillips Exeter, the New Hampshire prep school where his stepfather taught Russian history, that John Irving discovered the two great loves of his life: writing and wrestling. Modestly, he attributes his success in both endeavors to dogged perseverance. "My life in wrestling was one-eighth talent and seven-eighths discipline," he confessed in his 1996 mini-memoir The Imaginary Girlfriend. "I believe that my life as a writer consists of one-eighth talent and seven-eighths discipline, too."

Certainly, patience and stamina have served Irving well -- in both wrestling (he competed until he was 34, coached well into his 40s, and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992) and writing. His first book, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968 to respectable reviews but sold poorly. Over the course of the next ten years, he wrote two more unsuccessful novels (The Water-Method Man and The 158-Pound Marriage).

Then, in 1978, Irving hit the jackpot with The World According to Garp, a freewheeling comic saga incorporating motifs he would revisit many times over -- feminism, adultery, violence, grotesquerie, and an overriding sense of impending doom. Garp received a National Book Award nomination and became an instant cult classic. It also paved the way for a string of bestsellers, including The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meaney, and The Fourth Hand, to name a few.

While none of his novels are strictly autobiographical, Irving has never denied that certain elements from his life have seeped into his books, most notably the pervading "presence" of his biological father, John Wallace Blunt, a man Irving never knew. Raised by his mother and a stepfather he loved dearly, Irving had denied for years any curiosity about his absent parent, but the figure of the missing father haunted his writing like a specter. In 2005, he laid the ghost to rest with the publication of Until I Find You, a searing story that took shape slowly and painfully over the better part of a decade. Writing the novel also allowed the author to wrestle with a closely guarded secret from his past -- just like the novel's protagonist Jack Burns, Irving was sexually abused as a preteen by an older woman. In an eerily timed coincidence, while he was crafting the novel, Irving was contacted by a man named Chris Blunt, who identified himself as the son of Irving's biological father. Twenty years younger than Irving, his half-brother told Irving that their father had died in 1995. Although Irving was devastated by the experience, he now feels as if he is able to turn the page and move on.

In addition to his novels, Irving has also written a collection of short stories and essays (1995's Trying to Save Piggy Sneed) and several screenplays, including his Oscar-winning adaptation of The Cider House Rules. He chronicled the experience of bringing his novel to the screen in the 1999 memoir My Movie Business.

Good To Know

  • Irving struggled in school with a learning disability that was probably undiagnosed dyslexia. Today, he considers it something of a blessing. Forced to read slowly, he savored each word and literally fell in love with language and literature.

  • In a 2001 interview with the now-defunct Book magazine, Irving confessed, "The characters in my novels, from the very first one, are always on some quixotic effort of attempting to control something that is uncontrollable -- some element of the world that is essentially random and out of control."

  • Although the results have been mixed at best, film versions have been made of several Irving novels, including The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, and The Cider House Rules, which won for Irving a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. In addition, the movie Simon Birch was loosely based on A Prayer for Owen Meaney, and the first third of Irving's novel A Widow for One Year became the acclaimed film The Door in the Floor.

  • One of Irving's great literary influences was Kurt Vonnegut, his teacher and mentor at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The two writers remained close friends until Vonnegut's death in 2007.

  • Irving has two tattoos: a maple leaf (in honor of his Canadian wife) on his left shoulder, and the starting circle of a wrestling match on his right forearm.

  • The influence of Charles Dickens is evident in Irving's novels, sprawling epics with huge casts of colorful, eccentric characters and lots of complex plot points that crop up, disappear for hundreds of pages, then resurface unexpectedly. He writes voluminously and in great detail; he refuses to use a computer; and he begins at the end, writing the last sentence of each novel first. He describes himself as a craftsman and claims that he owes his success more to rewrites, ruthless editing, and infinite patience than to artistic genius.

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      1. Also Known As:
        John Wallace Blunt, Jr.
      2. Hometown:
        Vermont
      1. Date of Birth:
        March 2, 1942
      2. Place of Birth:
        Exeter, New Hampshire
      1. Education:
        B.A., University of New Hampshire, 1965; also studied at University of Vienna; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1967

    Read an Excerpt

    I’m going to begin by telling you about Miss Frost. While I say to everyone that I became a writer because I read a certain novel by Charles Dickens at the formative age of fifteen, the truth is I was younger than that when I first met Miss Frost and imagined having sex with her, and this moment of my sexual awakening also marked the fitful birth of my imagination. We are formed by what we desire. In less than a minute of excited, secretive longing, I desired to become a writer and to have sex with Miss Frost—not necessarily in that order.
     
    I met Miss Frost in a library. I like libraries, though I have difficulty pronouncing the word—both the plural and the singular. It seems there are certain words I have considerable trouble pronouncing: nouns, for the most part—people, places, and things that have caused me preternatural excitement, irresolvable conflict, or utter panic. Well, that is the opinion of various voice teachers and speech therapists and psychiatrists who’ve treated me—alas, without success. In elementary school, I was held back a grade due to “severe speech impairments”—an overstatement. I’m now in my late sixties, almost seventy; I’ve ceased to be interested in the cause of my mispronunciations. (Not to put too fine a point on it, but fuck the etiology.)
     
    I don’t even try to say the etiology word, but I can manage to struggle through a comprehensible mispronunciation of library or libraries—the botched word emerging as an unknown fruit. (“Liberry,” or “liberries,” I say—the way children do.)
     
    It’s all the more ironic that my first library was undistinguished. This was the public library in the small town of First Sister, Vermont—a compact red-brick building on the same street where my grandparents lived. I lived in their house on River Street—until I was fifteen, when my mom remarried. My mother met my stepfather in a play.
     
    The town’s amateur theatrical society was called the First Sister Players; for as far back as I can remember, I saw all the plays in our town’s little theater. My mom was the prompter—if you forgot your lines, she told you what to say. (It being an amateur theater, there were a lot of forgotten lines.) For years, I thought the prompter was one of the actors—someone mysteriously offstage, and not in costume, but a necessary contributor to the dialogue.
     
    My stepfather was a new actor in the First Sister Players when my mother met him. He had come to town to teach at Favorite River Academy—the almost-prestigious private school, which was then all boys. For much of my young life (most certainly, by the time I was ten or eleven), I must have known that eventually, when I was “old enough,” I would go to the academy. There was a more modern and better-lit library at the prep school, but the public library in the town of First Sister was my first library, and the librarian there was my first librarian. (Incidentally, I’ve never had any trouble saying the librarian word.)
     
    Needless to say, Miss Frost was a more memorable experience than the library. Inexcusably, it was long after meeting her that I learned her first name. Everyone called her Miss Frost, and she seemed to me to be my mom’s age—or a little younger—when I belatedly got my first library card and met her. My aunt, a most imperious person, had told me that Miss Frost “used to be very good-looking,” but it was impossible for me to imagine that Miss Frost could ever have been better-looking than she was when I met her—notwithstanding that, even as a kid, all I did was imagine things. My aunt claimed that the available men in the town used to fall all over themselves when they met Miss Frost. When one of them got up the nerve to introduce himself—to actually tell Miss Frost his name—the then-beautiful librarian would look at him coldly and icily say, “My name is Miss Frost. Never been married, never want to be.”
     
    With that attitude, Miss Frost was still unmarried when I met her; inconceivably, to me, the available men in the town of First Sister had long stopped introducing themselves to her.
     
    THE CRUCIAL DICKENS NOVEL
    THE one that made me want to be a writer, or so I’m always saying—was Great Expectations. I’m sure I was fifteen, both when I first read it and when I first reread it. I know this was before I began to attend the academy, because I got the book from the First Sister town library—twice. I won’t forget the day I showed up at the library to take that book out a second time; I’d never wanted to reread an entire novel before.
    Miss Frost gave me a penetrating look. At the time, I doubt I was as tall as her shoulders. “Miss Frost was once what they call ‘statuesque,’” my aunt had told me, as if even Miss Frost’s height and shape existed only in the past. (She was forever statuesque to me.)
     
    Miss Frost was a woman with an erect posture and broad shoulders, though it was chiefly her small but pretty breasts that got my attention. In seeming contrast to her mannish size and obvious physical strength, Miss Frost’s breasts had a newly developed appearance—the improbable but budding look of a young girl’s. I couldn’t understand how it was possible for an older woman to have achieved this look, but surely her breasts had seized the imagination of every teenage boy who’d encountered her, or so I believed when I met her—when was it?—in 1955. Furthermore, you must understand that Miss Frost never dressed suggestively, at least not in the imposed silence of the forlorn First Sister Public Library; day or night, no matter the hour, there was scarcely anyone there.
     
    I had overheard my imperious aunt say (to my mother): “Miss Frost is past an age where training bras suffice.” At thirteen, I’d taken this to mean that—in my judgmental aunt’s opinion—Miss Frost’s bras were all wrong for her breasts, or vice versa. I thought not! And the entire time I was internally agonizing over my and my aunt’s different fixations with Miss Frost’s breasts, the daunting librarian went on giving me the aforementioned penetrating look.
     
    I’d met her at thirteen; at this intimidating moment, I was fifteen, but given the invasiveness of Miss Frost’s long, lingering stare, it felt like a two-year penetrating look to me. Finally she said, in regard to my wanting to read Great Expectations again, “You’ve already read this one, William.”
     
    “Yes, I loved it,” I told her—this in lieu of blurting out, as I almost did, that I loved her. She was austerely formal—the first person to unfailingly address me as William. I was always called Bill, or Billy, by my family and friends.
     
    I wanted to see Miss Frost wearing only her bra, which (in my interfering aunt’s view) offered insufficient restraint. Yet, in lieu of blurting out such an indiscretion as that, I said: “I want to reread Great Expectations.” (Not a word about my premonition that Miss Frost had made an impression on me that would be no less devastating than the one that Estella makes on poor Pip.)
     
    So soon?” Miss Frost asked. “You read Great Expectations only a month ago!”
     
    “I can’t wait to reread it,” I said.
     
    “There are a lot of books by Charles Dickens,” Miss Frost told me. “You should try a different one, William.”
     
    “Oh, I will,” I assured her, “but first I want to reread this one.”
     
    Miss Frost’s second reference to me as William had given me an instant erection—though, at fifteen, I had a small penis and a laughably disappointing hard-on. (Suffice it to say, Miss Frost was in no danger of noticing that I had an erection.)
     
    My all-knowing aunt had told my mother I was underdeveloped for my age. Naturally, my aunt had meant “underdeveloped” in other (or in all) ways; to my knowledge, she’d not seen my penis since I’d been an infant—if then. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the penis word. For now, it’s enough that you know I have extreme difficulty pronouncing “penis,” which in my tortured utterance emerges—when I can manage to give voice to it at all—as “penith.” This rhymes with “zenith,” if you’re wondering. (I go to great lengths to avoid the plural.)
     
    In any case, Miss Frost knew nothing of my sexual anguish while I was attempting to check out Great Expectations a second time. In fact, Miss Frost gave me the impression that, with so many books in the library, it was an immoral waste of time to reread any of them.
     
    “What’s so special about Great Expectations?” she asked me.
     
    She was the first person I told that I wanted to be a writer “because of” Great Expectations, but it was really because of her.
     
    “You want to be a writer!” Miss Frost exclaimed; she didn’t sound happy about it. (Years later, I would wonder if Miss Frost might have expressed indignation at the sodomizer word had I suggested that as a profession.)
     
    “Yes, a writer—I think so,” I said to her.
     
    “You can’t possibly know that you’re going to be a writer!” Miss Frost said. “It’s not a career choice.”
     
    She was certainly right about that, but I didn’t know it at the time. And I wasn’t pleading with her only so she would let me reread Great Expectations; my pleas were especially ardent, in part, because the more exasperated Miss Frost became with me, the more I appreciated the sudden intake of her breath—not to mention the resultant rise and fall of her surprisingly girlish breasts.

    Read More Show Less

    Reading Group Guide

    1. “Goodness me, what makes a man?” asks Miss Frost. What makes a man, or a woman, in In One Person? Discuss, with reference to as many characters as possible.

    2. What are some of the different meanings of the title In One Person?

    3. “All children learn to speak in codes.” What are some of the codes people speak in in the book, and how well do the characters master them?

    4. What does John Irving’s choice of epigraph to the novel tell you?

    5. What is the importance of other works of literature – Madame Bovary, Giovanni’s Room or The Tempest, for example – in this novel? What kind of reading list is it?

    6. Who is your favourite character in the novel, and why?

    7. Compare and contrast In One Person with other recent works on related themes: you could look at Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, or the movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch, or The Crying Game, for example. What do all these works have in common, and how do they differ? What are they addressing in our society and in our time?

    8. “You’re a solo pilot, aren’t you, Bill… You’re cruising solo – no copilot has any clout with you,” Larry Upton tells Billy. Is this a fair assessment?

    9. In what ways is In One Person a book about family?

    10. Plays are important to In One Person. What do the performances of Shakespeare and Ibsen add to the book? What other kinds of acting and performance are highlighted in the novel, and why?

    11. Sex is notoriously hard to write well about – there’s even a “Bad Sex Award” in Britain for the worst example that comes to light each year. How does John Irving get around the pitfalls of writing about sex?

    12. Billy tells us that writers are people who make up stories, and at times he forgets details of his own story. Do you trust him, as a narrator? Why, or why not?

    13. “My sexual awakening also marked the fitful birth of my imagination.” What are the links between creativity (specifically writing) and sex in In One Person?

    14. Why do so many characters in In One Person have difficulty pronouncing strange, foreign or important words?

    15. Do you find this a shocking book? What in particular is challenging or disturbing about it? What is John Irving trying to make his readers confront?

    16. As a novel, what does In One Person contribute to society’s ongoing debates about sexuality, gender and identity?

    17. How do you feel at the end of the book?

    18. Will you recommend In One Person to your friends? Why, or why not?

    Read More Show Less

    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 3.5
    ( 98 )
    Rating Distribution

    5 Star

    (36)

    4 Star

    (28)

    3 Star

    (15)

    2 Star

    (7)

    1 Star

    (12)

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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 98 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted May 8, 2012

      Beautifully written!

      I have only started this but already, I am having a hard time putting it down (for work, to eat!). It is beautifully written....the prose is descriptive & captivating, the story is excellent, and the characters are quirky & lovable.

      27 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted May 13, 2012

      I have only just startedthis, but I findit to be as well written

      I have only just startedthis, but I findit to be as well written as even John Irving's best novels. He has been my favorite author since I read "The World According to Garp" in the early '80s.

      10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted May 22, 2012

      I usually love his books but I am about half way through and bec

      I usually love his books but I am about half way through and becoming bored and will probably pick up another book to read and come back to this one (someday). As usual, the writing is great but the story is interesting for a while and then drags on for too many pages before it becomes interesting again. Instead of 400+ pages this could have been written in much less. This is a disappointment as in the past I could never put one of his books down.

      7 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted May 29, 2012

      Irving doing what he does Irving doing wht he does

      Compelling characters. Social commentary. Ludicrous scenarios written believably. And as always the best foreshadowing of any author i have read. His use of language always astounds and amuses me.

      5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted May 20, 2012

      If you like Irving

      I have been a fan of john irving's since garp . This book has not let me down. I wish the wrestling was another sport, maybe ice hockey. However, all the oddities that irving does so well , are present and accounted for.

      4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted June 4, 2012

      Irving is my favorite author by far and I anxiously await his ne

      Irving is my favorite author by far and I anxiously await his new novels. I pre-ordered this one and couldn't wait for it to arrive. But I have been so disappointed. I am not interested in the story or the characters. All of his other books (except the 158 Pound Marriage) were hard to put down, this one is hard to keep reading. To say I am disappointed is an understatement. There are definite Irving-isms throughout the book. They aren't enough to make it interesting.

      3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 22, 2012

      Disappointing

      I have enjoyed Irving's previous novels very much. I put this one aside half way through. It is predictable, jumps all over the place, and frankly boring.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted June 8, 2012

      more from this reviewer

      A couple of decades ago, a group of Biblical scholars (I believe

      A couple of decades ago, a group of Biblical scholars (I believe they were called The Jesus Council) got together to discuss the four books of the gospel in the New Testament. They concluded that each of the books had elements in common but that they weren’t necessarily derivative of each other, but rather from another, older text, one that had presumably been lost. They called the missing text “Q”. It represented the set of facts and stories that each of the gospel writers would have been familiar with and would have used as the basis for their own accounts (if I remember correctly, only three of the gospels relied heavily on Q while the gospel of John—or was it Luke?—varied a great deal). Anyway, I bring this up because if you were to create the “John Irving Council” (Garp Council, perhaps?) you could draw the same conclusion. The majority of John Irving’s novels have so many elements in common that it seems like a dozen retellings of the same person’s life, the life of Q.

      Who is John Irving’s Q? Well, he’s likely the son of a single mother who has both mommy issues and daddy issues. His father may have been a war hero, but he’s not really sure and spends a fair bit of time wondering about it. He lives with his mother somewhere in New England. He probably is interested in wrestling as a teenager and aspires to be a writer. His first sexual experience is almost certainly with a somewhat masculine girl to whom he is not necessarily attracted but to whom he submits out of curiosity and fear. She will continue to influence his sexual development but will never be his idea of “girlfriend material.” She may be an inappropriate choice, perhaps because he sees her as a friend, or perhaps because she is related to him. Either way, he finds her sexually aggressive. There will be another woman whom he idealizes, even though things will probably not work out with her either. He will probably travel to Germany or Eastern Europe at some point. He may or may not encounter a bear.

      Who is this person? Is it just a constant recreation of Garp, the character who shot John Irving to literary stardom? Or is it a version of Irving’s own life? I’ve always wondered. Sadly, whenever Mr. Irving talks about himself in interviews or memoirs, it’s mostly about his success in the movie business, which I find less interesting than finding out the identity of the hairy girl who saw him through puberty.

      In some ways, In One Person is John Irving’s most revealing novel yet. Or at least it would be if the character of William Abbott, an aging novelist looking back on his life as a bisexual boy at a New England boarding school, were, in fact, John Irving. But he’s probably not. Mr. Irving is, after all, a fiction writer. But Bill Abbott could be Irving, or at least he could be the fictional version of the man who wrote The World According to Garp and Hotel New Hampshire. He is described as someone who writes novels that make sexual differences seem normal, who calls for sexual tolerance. Perhaps this is how John Irving would like to be described as well.

      2 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted May 26, 2012

      Save your money

      Boring and not worth the time or money.

      2 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted August 15, 2012

      I did not get very far in this book. It is sooo boring. Irving

      I did not get very far in this book. It is sooo boring. Irving seemed
      to go over the same point 20 times in 3 pages. I do not recommend.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted July 9, 2012

      Irving did it again. This is an interesting story written on an

      Irving did it again. This is an interesting story written on an interesting premise that is little explored.Overall it is a well-crafted story, with Irving at its best once again. It is a story that deserves to be treated with respect. In One Person is a well-observed story with witty lines, a great plot, colorful setting and fast pacing. I will move on to Fateful Ties, another recommendation. So far it is making me have trust in the person who recommended them.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted June 27, 2012

      This is one of Irving's more personable novels. There is a lot o

      This is one of Irving's more personable novels. There is a lot of dialog which is not really that common in his novels. Once more, he attempts to bring to a human level the suffering of LBGT folk and others who must deal with self doubt, prejudice, marginalization and of course, rejection from supposedly loving family members. The scope of and stage on which the novel plays out is small in comparison to past novels, but Irving still delivers on his themes on the complexity of loving someone and the random, uncontrollable suffering that we must all face as we make our way through this life. A very good book.

      1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted June 22, 2012

      I love John Irving's books, and he is my favorite author. This

      I love John Irving's books, and he is my favorite author. This was not my favorite of his books, but I do appreciate his heartfelt journey into this misunderstood realm. He tackles heartbreaking topics, and injects humor, sadness, quirky characters, and moral issues. I can't think of another author who encompasses all of those things in one book!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted June 4, 2012

      more from this reviewer

      Despite my original misgivings on what I erroneously believed th

      Despite my original misgivings on what I erroneously believed the book was about- a love story with a transgendered person- I was quite surprised to see that the romance was but one aspect of the novel, and that the story John Irving writes is full of interesting characters and a heartfelt look at the life of a person who grew up challenging sexual norms. It was a moving story that had me in tears at points. We see Billy Abott grow up, with his family trying to shield him from the so-called scandals that led to his birth, and we get a birds-eye seat into his life as he comes into his own and makes what he can of these very so-called scandals. Although Irving does not dwell at length on the AIDS epidemic, he nails it when he does cover the period when gay men were dying and their friends were struggling to cope. I have to admit that the transgendered world is foreign to me, but what I saw was that many people find themselves in bodies that do not suit who they are, and they make courageous efforts to be at ease in their won skin.
      Irving takes note that many gay men are not comfortable with a man who claims to be bisexual, and I am one of those. That part of the novel was a stretch for me, but then, the book celebrates sexual diversity as normal, and who am I to argue with a universe where diversity is one of the crowning achievements?
      I do take issue with the idea that there as many transgendered persons as Irving would have us believe, at least in one family. But maybe some day we will learn that such is genetic, I wouldn't be surprised.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted May 20, 2012

      Pethetick

      Why dose it cost $ when it is so stuped!?

      1 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted March 31, 2014

      Sex bitch

      Aww yeah! Get the sex on!!!

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted March 27, 2014

      Hannahferrell47@yahoo.com

      Add me

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted March 24, 2014

      Another Great One by Irving

      I love John Irving and this one was another great one.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted March 16, 2014

      Important perspectives

      A wrenchingly difficult piece of literature, for the reflection of angst and sorrow felt by people who are members of any special population, and a must read for those who want to gain in understanding and compassion of a group just beyond our own.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted February 11, 2014

      Heard It Before

      I am a devoted Irving fan having had many years of terrific reading . But it came to an end with this book

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 98 Customer Reviews

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