In One Person
Have you heard of John Irving? He's a talented novelist who has written a hefty thirteen works in his career as a writer so far, four of which were on the New York Times Bestseller list: The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules, Widow For One Year, and The Fourth Hand. He's also a fan of really serious head shots, according to Google.
You might recognize that second title; The Cider House Rules was turned into a movie in 1999 and won two Acadamy Awards.
However, he initially established himself as a writer with an earlier novel, The World According to Garp, which won the National Book Award in 1979 and was also made into a film (starring none other than the timeless Robin Williams).
His thirteenth novel, In One Body, was published in 2012 and won a Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Fiction the following year. This is the one the Campus Bookworm chose to chew on.
There are many reasons to explore John Irving's writing. His works manage to be incredibly detailed while simultaneously rivaling the dramatics of a House of Cards episode (no easy feat). If nothing else, he always succeeds in engaging the reader to feel sympathy for his generally uncoventional characters. This novel in particular was an enticing fictional biography of the struggles and recollections of a bisexual man from the small town of First Sister, Vermont
In the 1950's, William Francis Dean is thirteen, and his world seems to be framed by the things he lacks: a father, his mother's sympathy, and a library card. Billy is a quiet kid raised in a family who hoards their secrets and his distraught, fragile mother pulls ever so much farther away from him as he begins to resemble the man who had left her. But everything changes the day her handsome new husband takes Billy to acquire his first library card. It is on this day that he meets Miss Frost, the town librarian.
"Before you can write anything, you have to notice something"
As a hopeful future writer, Billy certainly has a knack for noticing things that others pass by. He sees a loyal friend in a lonely girl named Elaine, a schoolmate's cruelty hidden behind the guise of a beautiful boy, and he immediately notices his fierce attraction to the town librarian, a transgender woman three times his age.
John Irving's "In One Person" is the story of Billy Dean; it follows the span of his life from age thirteen into his late sixites. The story makes its way through his memory, alternately moving forward and backwards, leaving the rules of chronology behind (as memories themselves tend to do).
“Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn't. It simply files things away; it keeps things for you, or hides things from you. Your memory summons things to your recall with a will of its own. You imagine you have a memory, but your memory has you!”
John Irving traces the life of his characters beautifully; it's as if the reader experiences Billy's transformation - from a questioning, self-conscious teenager, into a confident bisexual adult - along with him.
"Don't make me a category before you get to know me," Miss Frost memorably told the young Billy when he first discovered her sexual identity. It's a lesson that continues to permeate Billy's life long after he leaves First Sister, one that he finds it does well to heed.