It takes courage today to write a novel with a first person narrator who is bisexual. In this politically correct age, there is bound to be a pitfall, a mistake, an offense made–perhaps unintentionally. It is remarkable that John Irving manages to navigate this tricky territory in his new novel, In One Person. But clearly Mr. Irving has done his research.
It isn’t surprising that Mr. Irving writes with authority on wrestling–one of the book’s leitmotifs. Nor is it surprising that Mr. Irving renders exquisitely detailed descriptions of small-town Vermont. No, the surprise here is how accurately he describes New York City at the height of the AIDS crisis. These pages are the most heart-rendingly poignant, because they are the most excruciatingly detailed.
Mr. Irving has done his research into male-to-female transgenders too. For while the narrator defines himself as bisexual, a more accurate term might just be: “sexual”. The truth is: he can have sex with anyone–as long as he’s on top.
I won’t give away the plot at all. Except to say that the best things about this novel are the surprises. These surprises come in two forms: The surprise that you know is coming, but you’re not sure exactly what it is until you read all the way to the end of the last sentence of the chapter. And the surprise that pops up like a jack-in-the box: another cheerful reminder that this author knows what he is doing.
There is only one more thing I will say: I love this book. It feels like Mr. Irving’s gift to us. It’s beautiful. More than just a plea for tolerance, it is a plea for understanding.
Needless to say, I strongly recommend this book.
John Irving’s In One Person is published by Simon and Schuster.
UPDATE 6/4/13: Tonight it was announced that In One Person won Lambda’s “Bisexual Literature” Award.