Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In One Person - by John Irving

A bit of metafiction at the end of Irving's latest novel, about a bisexual writer named Bill Abbott, provides a synopsis of what Irving manages to do with this work. Here, Abbott is talking to the son of a former classmate who points out that his (Abbott's) writing makes
"all these sexual extremes seem normal....You create these characters who are so sexually 'different' as you might call them...and you expect us to sympathize with them, or feel sorry for them, or something."
"Yes, that's more or less what I do"
Irving's cast of quirky characters includes a transgender librarian, one of young Billy Abbott's first crushes and also his first sex partner. Billy's definition of sex, however, is rather Clinton-esque. He points out over and over again that what he and Miss Frost did was not what most would consider sex, as there was "no penetration". (One has to wonder about the choice of the first name of the character.)

Miss Frost, is not the only librarian in this book. The other is the unnamed librarian at Bill Abbott's boarding school, Favorite River Academy.
the academy librarian was one of Favorite River's fussy old bachelors; everyone thought that such older, unmarried males on the...faculty were what we called at the time "nonpracticing homosexuals." Who knew if they were or weren't "practicing," or if they were or were not homosexuals? All we'd observed was that they lived alone, and the way they ate and spoke - hence we imagined that they were unnaturally effeminate.
There are so many eccentric characters in this work that to examine each one would probably require a dissertation, but I do feel the need to mention Bill's cross-dressing Grandfather, and the not-so-subtle allusion made to "The Lumber Jack Song". Grandpa Harry runs a saw mill, and is pointedly called a "lumber man" in the story.

Fans of Irving's work will not be disappointed. For those who have not read any of his other novels this is as good a place as any to start.

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