In One Person
“My dear boy, please don’t put a label on me – don’t make me a category before you get to know me!”
John Irving’s new novel 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.
Told with the panache and assurance of a master storyteller, In One Person takes the reader along a dizzying path: from a private school in Vermont in the 1950s to the gay bars of Madrid’s Chueca district, from the Vienna State Opera to the wrestling mat at the New York Athletic Club. It takes in the ways that cross-dressing passes from one generation to the next in a family, the trouble with amateur performances of Ibsen, and what happens if you fall in love at first sight while reading Madame Bovary on a troop transport ship, in the middle of an Atlantic storm. For the sheer pleasure of the tale, there is no writer alive as entertaining and enthralling as John Irving at his best.
But this is also a heartfelt, intimate book about one person, a novelist named William Francis Dean. By his side as he tells his own story, we follow Billy on a fifty-year journey toward himself, meeting some uniquely unconventional characters along the way. For all his long and short relationships with both men and women, Billy remains somehow alone, never quite able to fit into society’s neat categories. And as Billy searches for the truth about himself, In One Person grows into an unforgettable call for compassion in a world marked by failures of love and failures of understanding.
Utterly contemporary and topical in its themes, In One Person is one of John Irving’s most political novels. It is a book that grapples with the mysteries of identity and the multiple tragedies of the AIDS epidemic, a book about everything that has changed in our sexual life over the last fifty 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.
A brand new story in a grand old tradition, In One Person stands out as one of John Irving’s finest works – and as such, one of the best and most important American books of the last four decades.
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.”
“Irving at his best: unbearably sad, unforgettably narrated, painfully human.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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 .”
“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.”
“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