Friday, September 28, 2012

in one person

This is my third (only!) John Irving novel. I have two others sitting at home* that I'll get to at some point, but I read The Hotel New Hampshire a couple of years ago, and The World According to Garp back the college days.What I liked about both of those is what Irving didn't say in his writing, as much as what he did say. That didn't seem as tangible in this novel, but that isn't a fault. The writing here is more casual and jumped around in time in order to tell the story the way his narrator would.

In One Person is told in the first person, and it traces the narrator's life story, from a small, private high school in '50s Vermont, to the present day. Irving writes the story from the protagonist's point of view, and it appears that he uses the writing style that he has assigned to this character, who is a writer. I get this impression because, as usual, Irving has done a wonderful job of fleshing out his characters, so that after just a few chapters, I felt as if I knew them, if only through the stories told to me by a good friend, about his own family. The narrator tells his story in a kind of free association style one might use to tell a story at a party.

Irving is still writing about dysfunctional families, and while this family isn't nearly as dysfunctional as the families in Garp or Hotel New Hampshire, they certainly have their challenges. This story is focused on the narrator, and what it was like growing up as a bisexual man in Vermont in the '50s, in New York during the sexual revolution in the '60s and the rise of the Gay Rights movement in the '70s,  and the AIDS epidemic in the '80s.

As usual, Irving doesn't shy away from tricky, complex and often times marginalized human relationships in his story-telling. In fact they intrigue him, and he examines them so closely that we as readers can't fail to find common ground and a shared humanity with his characters. In One Person is touching, funny, outrageous, incredible, and fun to read.

Read this book.

* The Cider House Rules & A Widow for One Year

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