John Irving’s “In One Person” was the reminder I needed that not every great book is one that you can’t put down. The tale of William “Billy” Abbott, as told by Billy, is one that is almost better to enjoy slowly. It reads like your best friend from prep school catching you up on the last 60 years of his life, and before you know it, you’re hooked.
The cast of characters is a large one—Billy, his best friend Elaine, his stepfather Richard, mother Mary, grandfather Harry, Aunt Muriel, Uncle “Let ‘Em In” Bob, as well as friends, enemies and lovers Larry, Esmerelda, Tom, Kittredge and … Miss Frost. Oh, Miss Frost. Each and every person that touches Billy’s life helps shape the man he becomes, and really, that’s what the story is about—how Billy grapples with manhood as a bisexual growing up in the 60s and 70s, then living through the AIDS crisis in the 80s. His life, his loves, his family. His surreal, peculiar, really quite bizarre family.
Irving handles Billy’s sexuality so matter-of-factly that it never seems odd or out of place—even when Billy struggles to understand it. And speaking of sex, there’s a lot of it. Lots and lots. And in not-so-traditional relationships. If reading about anyone’s sexual escapades is uncomfortable for you, I’d suggest skipping it. But then again, this is John Irving, so my hope is that you would already know ise proclivity for not-so-traditional.
It took me a while to really get into the rhythm of this book—Irving tends to jump around Billy’s personal timeline quite a bit. And I think that if I had a greater love of Shakespeare, this book may have gone to entirely new level of awesome. But if you stick it out, the payoff is truly amazing. As with the story of anyone’s life, there’s also death, and there were two in this book that brought me to tears. Touching, indeed. This is going to stick with me for a while, and I’m glad for that.
In One Person