In One Person by John IrvingIn One Person by John Irving

In One Person

byJohn Irving

Paperback | January 29, 2013

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His most political novel since The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving's In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love--tormented, funny and affecting--and an intimate, unforgettable portrait of the novel's bisexual narrator and main character, Billy Abbott.

In One Person is a glorious ode to sexual difference, a poignant story of a life that no reader will be able to forget, a book that no one else could have written. Utterly contemporary and topical in its themes, In One Person grapples with the mysteries of identity and the multiple tragedies of the AIDS epidemic, and with everything that has changed in our sexual life over the last 50 years and everything that still needs to. It's also one of Irving's most sincere and human novels, a book imbued on every page with a spirit of openness that expands and challenges the reader's world.

JOHN IRVING was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. His first novel, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968, when he was twenty-six. He competed as a wrestler for twenty years, and coached wrestling until he was forty-seven. Mr. Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times--winning once, in 1980, for his n...
Title:In One PersonFormat:PaperbackDimensions:448 pages, 7.99 × 5.39 × 0.96 inPublished:January 29, 2013Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307361799

ISBN - 13:9780307361790

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Rated 3 out of 5 by from A very different book..... Normally I can gobble up a book in a few days but this one took me well over a month. It's long and drawn out. There really isn't much of a storyline, and no climax at the end. The subject itself was interesting, and thought provoking (I found myself researching AIDS in the 80's after finishing, being too young to have lived through it), but I feel it could have moved along a lot better.
Date published: 2018-01-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Read Completely surprised about this book. I had no idea about the story, found it different than anything else I had read by this author. Absolutely loved it!
Date published: 2016-11-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Was expecting more I forced myself to continue on with this book simply because it was written by John Irving. It was only the last quarter of the book that really grabbed me. I did enjoy the ending though, it was appropriate.
Date published: 2015-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from John Irving does not disappoint! Once more, John Irving introduces a funny and unconventional cast of characters. In his typical writing style, there are a few lenghty narrative passages but oh! what a story he weaves!
Date published: 2015-10-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from In One Person Not my favourite John Irving book. He is on the top of my favourite author list, but I didn't care too much for this book. I found it just did not draw me in like his others, but I kept reading it to see if it suddenly would. Decent story, just not his best. Had this been my first John Irving book, I likely wouldn't have read another.
Date published: 2015-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In one person Most captivating book I have read in a long time John IRVING never disappoints
Date published: 2013-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from His best book yet! It’s hard to write this review because I absolutely adored this book. I truly believe that it’s John Irving’s best work to date. I’ve been reading John Irving’s books ever since they made us watch Simon Birch in ninth grade, so I feel as thought I’m semi-qualified to make this declaration. Or at least as qualified as the next person. One thing about this kind of novel is that we really get to know the protagonist – Billy Abbot. Though this book tracks Billy’s life from childhood to his golden years, the real stand out parts are his time as an adolescent (the 1950s) and his adult years during the early days of AIDS (1980s). In regards to the 1950s, I think Irving does a great job illustrating Billy’s “coming of age” and how he learns about himself and begins to understand his own sexuality. It’s hard enough for kids/teens now-a-days to come to terms with the huge spectrum of sexual identity there is. I can only imagine (through books like In One Person) how difficult it would have been back then. Thankfully Billy has some great people around him to help him get through this time, and form a healthy attitude about himself. His cross-dressing grandfather, his life long friend Elaine, her mother and the transsexual librarian – Miss. Frost. I think this is a great example of how having the right kind of people around you (a.k.a the supportive kind) when you’re coming out/exploring your sexuality doesn’t need to be an absolutely terrifying or painful thing. I don’t think every “coming out” story needs to be dark and depressing because that’s not reality for every person. It’s also not very encouraging. That’s not to say it was a walk in the park for Billy. He faced a lot of resistance from his mother and others in the town and I think this kept Irving from sugar coating it too much. So while Billy’s teen years focus on self identity, the time in the 1980s focuses more on the greater community. From what I understand, previous to the AIDs epidemic, there wasn’t a huge LGBTQ community like there is now. There was a lot of stuff going on in secret and behind closed doors* but AIDs really brought everything out into the forefront and the public spotlight. Though Billy escapes infection himself, he see’s a lot of his friends and acquaintances die and through his eyes we see how that affects their family and loved ones. We see some people hide from it and some people rally and throw themselves into doing everything they can. One part that really got to me was when an old school mater of Billy dies and the desperate and heart breaking actions of his mother when it happens. This part of In One Person, was haunting and disturbing and really shed a light on a period of recent history we really don’t see much about. Above all I like that John Irving does an amazing job exploring how sexuality is fluid and it breaks down a lot of the ridiculous barriers that our society has constructed. He puts sexuality in a larger historical construct and demonstrates that LGBT doesn’t even begin to cover the multitude of ways people experience love, attraction and themselves. If there was one thing to take away from this novel I think these ideas would be it. Sexuality doesn’t fit into neat little boxes and Billy Abbot proves it doesn’t need to. Recommendation: An absolutely brilliant and moving book that touches on a lot of issues and ideas that are important/interesting to me. If you enjoy Irving’s other works this one will appeal to you and if you like books that deal with questions of sexuality and identity, In One Person is definitely one you want to check out. *clarification: I’m not saying this was universal but I think this was the case for a lot of people. This and other reviews at More Than Just Magic -
Date published: 2013-03-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from On the Whole, Mostly Boring This was my first Irving novel. It started off promising great things would happen, but they just didn't. So I found it disappointing. Too bad. He is supposedly a great writer.
Date published: 2012-10-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Beyond disappointment! A shallow and inane novel! This was the most pathetic and contemptuous novel I have ever read. But, please, do not look over my review for having the prejudice of a homophobic bigotry. I’m not heterosexual, nor am I homosexual, to borrow Mr. John Irving’s own words from the novel, I’ve a propensity of what he calls “mutable”. What baffles me the greatest is the number of spaces the elegant and beautiful front cover of this novel occupied in the Toronto’s transit system for over two months! If you find statements like the following to be profound and make you ecstatic and contemplative about the power of Mr. John Irving’s writings, then you are going to love this novel: - Elaine had LASIK surgery, “now she could actually see penises; she didn’t like the looks of some of them – ‘most of them,’ Elaine had said.” - “I blame myself for not saying anything to Amanda about the frigging ghosts in the River Street House.” That is right, ghosts are a serious subject of worry in this novel, numerous times! This was my first John Irving novel, thus, I’ve no chauvinism of loyalty to the author, nor any remorse for composing such malign words for the novel. It is a work of crap, and “stinks” like the stink of gay love as Mr. Irvin writes on page 188 in reference to James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. It still marvels me the amount of money went into publicizing this pathetic work of literature all over the city of Toronto, in subway stations, buses, and other places. What a waste of money! This money would have been better spent donating those spaces of advertisement to profound quotes of wisdom on tolerance, love, compassion, and reason by thinkers like Socrates, Cicero, Markus Aurelius, John Locke, Arthur Schopenhauer, B. Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and others; but of course, Mr. Irving is NOT even any close in intellectual developments as the authors just mentioned. Please, save your time, and do not squander your precious life and money on 425 pages of this abhorrently inane and petty novel. Or, if you really are adventurous, pick it up from your local public library, read the first 100 or so pages, and see for yourself what a waste of paper and ink this is. It is my sincere hope that Mr. Irving never publishes a book again, and spares the trees that would otherwise be butchered to print his vile, inane, and infantile words.
Date published: 2012-08-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Was okay.. This was my first John Irving novel, and while I didn't love it, I liked the style enough to want to check out his more iconic works. The story is about a bi-sexual man who is now old, but is reflecting on his life growing up in the 50s all the way through to the present. It deals with the small town prejudices of being different as well as the AIDS crisis in the 80s. I'm not sure how accurate a portrayal it is, but the main character seemed to be absurdly blessed in that he never really deals with many of the serious issues many gays had to deal with. Most of his family and friends are very accepting and he seems to glide through his life with few hardships or self doubts that would have added more depth to his character. It's a bit much that so many of his fellow characters end up being gay or bi sexual, so that nearing the end of the book, it's no longer surprising, just cliche. I did enjoy it, however, and am looking forward to more from Irving.
Date published: 2012-08-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I tried really hard... I was SO looking forward to this new book by John Irving. I tried really hard to like it, kept reading thinking it would get better but it just didn't happen. I agree with another reviewer's comments, the book is boring. So disappointing, his other books were such a good read
Date published: 2012-06-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from There's even bears! 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. For more reviews, please visit my blog, CozyLittleBookJournal.
Date published: 2012-06-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from boring read I really enjoyed past novels like Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany so naturally I couldn't wait to read this new release. Boring is the best description, this book is slow and painful (although he manages to work wrestling into it, no surprize) is about being gay, and the trials and so forth of sexuality issues in the 60"s. I'm not homophobic nor am I gay but this book is boring. In the end it goes into the pain and suffering of AIDs but it was a long incredibly boring book and a waste of money. I won't share this book with friends because it isn't worth reading................
Date published: 2012-05-27

Read from the Book

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 NOVELTHE 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.

Bookclub 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?

Editorial Reviews

INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER #1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER (Maclean’s) Longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award  Finalist for the Lambda Literary Bisexual Literature Award A New York Times Notable Book"'Fullness of heart,' a quality Irving has praised in Dickens, is one of [In One Person's] many virtues, and the reader is swept along by the histories it tells.... John Irving understands plotting as few other living American writers do." The New York Review of Books"Deeply affecting.... [A] novel that reaffirms the centrality of Irving as the voice of social justice and compassion in contemporary American literature." Steven Hayward, The Globe and Mail"Memorable.... Powerful and timely." CBC Books "An important book that will become, over time, a cultural standard." The Washington Independent Review of Books