In One Person by John Irving
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read someone once say that horrible John Irving novels are still MUCH better than most other people's novels. And after reading this novel, I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly. I think John Irving is a brilliant novelist. Some of his novels have blown me away but all of them have been good. This is not his best by any stretch of the imagination. This is not his masterpiece. But, this is still a good novel that has a great deal to say about identity, tolerance and acceptance.
The Irving hallmarks (boldness, quirky characters, complex plotting) are all here in this novel. You'll also find wrestling, dysfunctional families, prep schools, abortion, single parenting and a reference or two to bears (although not traditional bears).
This novel focuses on sexual identity and really gave me a lot to think about. I think the proportion of sexually unconventional characters in this particular novel is pretty unbelievable but that is classic Irving in my opinion. He takes the quirky and makes it big and puts it upfront and center. So, in the end, I can overcome the fact that there are so many sexually unconventional characters in the relatively small world of this novel.
The pacing of the novel wasn't as strong as some of his other novels. It took a long time for me to get through this novel. I think it is partly because some of the descriptive sequences were under edited. I felt that the narrative would meander around some things for considerably longer than was actually necessary. There was also quite a bit if repetition in the narrative which I found to be too much at times. Although the reading experience was at times slow and meandering, in retrospect, I feel it was an absorbing novel that picked up midway through and stayed strong until the end.
The characters are classic Irving - flawed, quirky, unusual and always compelling. I loved their voices - good and bad. I enjoyed learning about them and what makes them unique. The novel definitely has a strong voice - at times, it reads similarly to a memoir.
Irving really shows his writing prowess during the section of the novel that focuses on the AIDS epidemic. Such compassion and sensitivity there! He really made the terror and devastation of that time in history come alive. That was one of the sections of the novel that was most effective for me.
Upon reflection, I think this is a strong addition to Irving's novels. Although not nearly as good as Garp, A Widow for One Year or the Hotel New Hampshire (my personal favorites), this is a good novel that deserves a read if you're a fan of Irving or if you're particularly interested in themes of sexual identity.
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