Received: Received a copy from the Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest reviewRelease Date: January 29, 2013 (Paperback) Originally published in 2012
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A compelling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love—tormented, funny, and affecting—and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character of In One Person, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a “sexual suspect,” a phrase first used by John Irving in 1978 in his landmark novel of “terminal cases,” The World According to Garp. His most political novel since The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving’s In One Person is a poignant tribute to Billy’s friends and lovers—a theatrical cast of characters who defy category and convention. Not least, In One Person is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself “worthwhile.”
I had seen a lot about this book when it first came out last year, it was advertised all over Toronto, and I meant to look up what it was about, but always managed to forget it. When I finally looked into the book, I thought it sounded beautiful and emotional, and after finally reading it, I can say that is was very emotional but Irving's writing draws you into the story and captures your heart. This is a book that needs to be read many times over to really get the whole feeling of the story (I definitely felt like I missed things in my first reading, and want to go back over the story myself). This book is just so powerful and the message that comes with it will stay with readers for quite some time after reading it.
Right from the beginning you can see that this story is not told like most stories, in a straight line. The narrator (Billy) jumps around a lot from his past, I felt that this is how someone would sit down and tell a story to a group of people, where many characters are mentioned in passing and then we come back and formally meet them later on. Though it was a little confusing for me at first I really got into it, because readers are being shown how each person that Billy meets makes an impact on his life in different ways. This book has a very large cast of characters that really make a statement with Billy, but you soon learn that every person is important and there is a reason that small characters that you may forget about, but then they resurface and Billy means for that to happen.
The main focus of this book is the question of sexuality, and it was really interesting to see how Irving wrote about it, and used literature to showcase these questions. Billy grows up not really being much of a reader until his stepfather decides it time that he gets a library card and starts reading books. I really enjoyed that Billy learned more about himself through the books he read, and came to terms with his own feelings through reading. The one thing that really made this book difficult for me was Billy's family. They are such a strong presence in his life, but they are very secretive and there is this mystery of his father that hangs over him for almost half the book. And for most of the book Billy and his mother have problems because of Billy's sexuality, as much as he tries to keep it hidden, it was heartbreaking and I loved when Billy was finally able to let his secret out to certain people.
Irving chooses the perfect setting for his book as well, as Billy grows the time of the AIDS epidemic really effects his life and takes many people that he has grown to love over time. Death is a huge part of this book and it really hits you over and over again.
There was one quote that really stuck out to me that needs to be repeated for all readers "Savor, don't gorge. And when you love a book, commit one glorious sentence of it--perhaps your favourite sentence--to memory. That way you won't forget the language of the story that moved you to tears" This quote is said by the librarian, Miss Frost to Billy about really reading and loving books.
This is definitely an adult book, Irving writes some graphic scenes of Billy coming into his sexuality, but they are meaningful and really make the book what it is. This book will not be for everyone, but I think those that read it, will be impacted by the story.