One part of summer we have grown to count on is the annual celebration of Gay Pride. If you're looking for a great book to read either to celebrate Pride, or to understand more about gay culture and how it has evolved, John Irving's latest, In One Person, would be the book to pick up this summer. Following a young writer from his time in school through adulthood, Irving's narrator Billy is bisexual, fearing his so-called "Crushes on the Wrong People" from an early age. The first half or so of the novel is a coming of age story, a deep and intimate portrait of the narrator's time at boarding school featuring early sexual experiences that define the second half of the novel.
The novel's strongest elements are in Billy's growing up and his exploration of bisexuality. Often considered an untrue sexuality, Irving examines what it means to be attracted to both men and women in a way that is believable, with an aura of familiarity that makes you really understand how Billy thinks. Through Billy's relationships with men, women and transgender individuals we see a person grow and develop over the forty-or-so years the novel spans.
As his school years end, Billy's story moves at a much quicker pace, which does not allow for as much of the intense personal experience as the first half of the novel. While an extended section on the AIDS crisis in the 80's is a searing and heartbreaking depiction of a horrible chunk of history. There are simply not enough moments like that in the second half of the novel. Relationships that supposedly have a profound effect on Billy begin and end in too few pages, or occur in an order that don't fully convey their significance.
Another problem with In One Person is the occasional contrived moment in the plot. Often there are moments that must happen for the sake of the plot of the novel, but have not truly been earned by what happened before it. A few of these contrivances might have been passable, but they occur frequently enough in admittedly small instances that they must be noted.
Bottom Line: A fantastic character study, coming of age novel, and great piece of gay-interest fiction, John Irving's In One Person is a good, if flawed, piece. A very personal, interesting and well-researched novel.
You can find John Irving's In One Person at your local chain bookstore, online or at an independent bookstore near you (click here for a list). You can also download it to your Kindle, Nook, iPad or other eBook reader.