#1 NATIONAL 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.”
“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
From the Author
An Exclusive Guest Essay from John Irving
In One Person
is about a young bisexual man who falls in love with an older transgender woman--Miss Frost, the librarian in a Vermont public library. The bi guy is the main character, but two transgender women are the heroes of this novel--in the sense that these two characters are the ones my bisexual narrator, Billy Abbott, most looks up to.
Billy is not me. He comes from my imagining what I might have been like if I’d acted on all my earliest impulses as a young teenager. Most of us don’t ever act on our earliest sexual imaginings. In fact, most of us would rather forget them--not me. I think our sympathy for others comes, in part, from our ability to remember our feelings--to be honest about what we felt like doing. Certainly, sexual tolerance comes from being honest with ourselves about what we have imagined sexually.
Those adults who are always telling children and young adults to abstain from doing everything--well, they must have never had a childhood or an adolescence (or they’ve conveniently forgotten what they were like when they were young).
When I was a boy, I imagined having sex with my friends’ mothers, with girls my own age--yes, even with certain older boys among my wrestling teammates. It turned out that I liked girls, but the memory of my attractions to the “wrong” people never left me. What I’m saying is that the impulse to bisexuality was very strong; my earliest sexual experiences--more important, my earliest sexual imaginings--taught me that sexual desire is mutable. In fact, in my case--at a most formative age--sexual mutability was the norm. What made me a writer was definitely a combination of what I read and what I imagined--especially, what I imagined sexually.
Billy meets the transgender librarian, Miss Frost, because he goes to the library seeking novels about “crushes on the wrong people.” Miss Frost starts him out with the Brontë sisters--specifically, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. She expresses less confidence in Fielding’s Tom Jones, which she also gives Billy. As she puts it, “If one can count sexual escapades as one result of crushes--"
Later, when Billy has become an avid reader and he returns to the library confessing his crush on an older boy on the wrestling team, Miss Frost--who has earlier given Billy novels by Dickens and Hardy--gives him Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. (This is the same night she seduces him.)
“We are formed by what we desire,” Billy tells us--in the first paragraph of the first chapter. He adds: “I desired to become a writer and to have sex with Miss Frost—not necessarily in that order.”
Later in the novel, Billy realizes this about himself: “I knew that no one person could rescue me from wanting to have sex with men and women.”
My first-person novels are confessional stories about sexually taboo subjects. The 158-Pound Marriage is about wife-swapping. The narrator of The Hotel New Hampshire is incestuously in love with his sister. Johnny Wheelwright, the narrator of A Prayer for Owen Meany, is called (behind his back) a “nonpracticing homosexual”; his love for Owen Meany is repressed. I always saw Johnny as a deeply closeted homosexual who would never come out. In One Person is a much shorter novel than Owen Meany, and Billy is an easier first-person voice to be in--Billy is very out.
Billy says: “I wanted to look like a gay boy--or enough like one to make other gay boys, and men, look twice at me. But I wanted the girls and women to wonder about me--to make them look twice at me, too. I wanted to retain something provocatively masculine in my appearance.” Billy remembers when he is cast as Ariel in The Tempest, and Richard (the director) tells him that Ariel’s gender is “mutable.” (Richard tells Billy that the sex of angels is mutable, too.) Billy later says: “I suppose I was trying to look sexually mutable, to capture something of Ariel’s unresolved sexuality.” He concludes: “There is no one way to look bisexual, but that was the look I sought.”
Billy doesn’t start out so sure of himself. “You’re a man, aren’t you?” he asks Miss Frost, when he discovers that she used to be a man. “You’re a transsexual!” he tells her, accusingly.
Miss Frost speaks sharply to him: “My dear boy, please don’t put a label on me--don’t make me a category before you get to know me!”
As Billy learns--in part, from being bisexual--our genders and orientations do not define us. We are somehow greater than our sexual identities, but our sexual identities matter.