John Irving, In One Person
A magical kind of origin story; ultimately one of acceptance
“We are formed by what we desire,” writes John Irving on the first page of In One Person, his latest contribution to a lifetime of novels — including The World According to Garp and Cider House Rules — about people with slippery, supercharged sexuality. And thus we spend a good portion of the book learning what formed the desires of the narrator, bisexual novelist William — known as Billy in his youth — Abbott.
It begins with a flat-chested small-town Vermont librarian who thrusts Dickens on Billy, as well as a cross-dressing grandfather, his youthful, theatrical stepfather, and an intimidating but desirable wrestler private school classmate. Add in an absent father and a stolen bra or two, swirl it in a cauldron with Shakespeare references, and we’ve got ourselves one magical kind of origin story. And it is one ultimately of acceptance, both from Billy himself and the people around him. That past holds through the rest of the book, especially when we are thrust into a devastating look at the impact of AIDS in the 1980s. In the middle of some truly sad moments, it helps to know that the narrator doesn’t loathe himself. His own self-respect guides the reader.
This is, of course, heavy, dense stuff on the page. Irving works every sentence rigorously. But as voiced by the absurdly talented Broadway veteran John Benjamin Hickey (“The Big C”), this fiercely constructed book goes down smoother. And Hickey’s take on an Austrian accent is worth the price of the audiobook alone.