Monday, July 02, 2012
Review: In One Person
In One Person by John Irving
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In One Person was a fully satisfying read that would have earned a 5-star review had it been by another author for whom I did not have such high expectations.
From the first paragraph - concluding with the line, "We are formed by what we desire. In less than a minute of excited, secretive longing, I desired to become a writer and to have sex with miss Frost--not necessarily in that order." - I was pulled into this novel and the life of William Abbott and his extended family.
But as much as the novel pulled me in, it built at a slower pace than I would have expected. The narrator continues to linger in Bill's teenage years at the Favorite River Academy long after I was ready to move on. These years are important to the story - and great reading - but much of what's to come is alluded to here, but is never as fully described as these early scenes.
I still wanted to read more about the summer in Europe with poor Tom, and how that relationship ended. There's virtually nothing about William's early college years, before returning to Europe to study in Vienna. Another gap appears following the return from Vienna.
Still, even with the long, perhaps uneven, build-up, by the time we get to 1981 and the start of the AIDS epidemic, Irving has us where he wants us. The reunions with poor Tom and "two cups" Delacorte are presented tenderly and to great effect.
As Richard Abbott tells our narrator (page 311), "If you live long enough, Bill--it's a world of epilogues." It's a John Irving novel, so the epilogues include the deaths of many of the characters: by AIDS, but also suicides, a car wreck with a drunk driver, and even natural causes.
There are reunions and survivors in these epilogues as well, including the elusive Franny Dean, and despite the dark topics of AIDS and fear inspired hatred, there's a chance for a hopeful ending; even in young Kitteridge's anger there's a desire to understand.
Understanding and tolerance is what John Irving always asks of us through all his novels - to have some sympathy for those who live society's taboos. "We already are who we are, aren't we?"
In the end, while this was a very good book, and I do recommend it to those who either love John Irving or are interested in the story, it falls somewhat short of such classics as The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meany, or even the more recent Last Night in Twisted River.