Review: In One Person

My dear boy, please don’t put a label on me—don’t make me a category before you get to know me!


Thank you, Random House Canada, for sharing In One Person with us.  This book instantly reminded me why I cherish the work of John Irving.  He’s an author with a gift.  He’s an author with a message.  In One Person is now at the top of my list of recommendations, but be aware that it leaves no stone unturned.  With grace, humor and candor, In One Person reaches levels of human emotion that would leave the best of us raw and exhausted.  This, however, is all in a day’s work for Mr. Irving.

…I know myself best by my persistent crushes on the wrong people, the way I was formed by how long I kept the secret of myself from the people I loved.

At the center of Irving’s latest is William (Billy) Abbott.  The novel begins with Billy’s adolescence, and then deftly moves with him throughout his life.  Billy, a bisexual, takes the reader with him as he paints an extraordinary portrait of love, torment and brave self-awareness.  Billy develops “crushes on the wrong people.”  He has a growing list of unpronounceable words, such as ‘penis.’  He becomes infatuated with a school bully at his all-boys boarding school.  He gets swept away by classic literature, and his little town’s Shakespearean theater.  He falls in love with the town librarian.

He’s one of the most endearing characters I’ve encountered.

The people who surround him, his Grandfather, his best friend Elaine, the wonderful and memorable librarian Miss Frost, school mate and tormentor Jacques Kittredge, the Hadleys, Richard Abbott… are each extraordinary in their own right.  Once enveloped by this story, you can’t imagine it taking place without every one of them.  Some bend rules of form and sexuality, and some fit neatly into society’s description of conventional.  Overall, the people of this novel are each so richly drawn that book sequels could be penned with any of them as main characters.  Yes, it’s that good.

As Billy moves through life, experiencing everything from true love to grave disappointment, it was fascinating to read how he related to others.  His relationships were powerful.  People left indelible marks on him, but he always remained true to himself.  His journey of self discovery spanned his lifetime.

I had enough on my mind when I went to bed that night – hearing, through my walls, my mother manipulatively crying.

I could vaguely hear Grandpa Harry’s preternaturally high voice, too, though not what he was saying.  I knew only that he had begun “doin’ the explainin’,” a process that I also knew had just been seriously jump-started inside me.

From here on, I thought – at the age of eighteen, as I lay in bed, seething – I’m the one who’ll be “doin’ the explainin’!

The way Billy opened himself to the people who cared for him was refreshing. How those people responded was even better.  While not every person in this book was a model of loving acceptance, they were all genuine.  More importantly, the reader did not have to cope with the bigotry that is far too prevalent in today’s news.  On the contrary, I never felt dread while reading about Billy’s interactions with others, and I never got the sense that at any moment, someone was lurking in the shadows to hurt him.  Simply put, this book had more to say.  Harping on fear was not in this novel’s DNA, which made it that much more fulfilling.

As an adult, Bill Abbott has girlfriends and boyfriends.  He travels.  He meets his biological father.  He watches loved ones and acquaintances perish from AIDS.  He teaches.  More importantly, he mentors, maintaining that knowledge leads to compassion.  He is intolerant of intolerance.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  What would the world be like if this described everyone?

All I say is: Let us leave les folles alone; let’s just leave them be.  Don’t judge them.  You are not superior to them – don’t put them down.


Everyone has an all-time Top 10 list of books that they have read.  In One Person is now in mine.  Thank you for this book Mr. Irving; I have no doubt that it will be a treasure that I will read more than once.

If you have yet to pick up an Irving novel, I encourage you to experience this author’s work.  There are many Irving books to choose; A Prayer for Owen Meany is a wonderful story.  The Cider House Rules is a novel that will steal you away.  Or, if you wish to start with In One Person, I can’t think of a more heartfelt beginning.  5 very enthusiastic stars for In One Person, and much encouragement for you to get a copy today!