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Spotlight: John Irving’s new novel In One Person is an epic tale of bisexual bawdiness

John Irving

(Image: Matthew Tammaro)

John Irving writes big, blustery novels full of larger-than-life characters and sex in all its acrobatic and often scandalous manifestations. His first bestseller, 1978’s The World According to Garp, featured the rape of a dying soldier by his nurse, a cross-dressing former football star and an act of oral sex that ends in accidental castration. His next, The Hotel New Hampshire, had brother-sister incest and a polyamorous woman in a bear costume. No wonder Irving’s books have occasionally been the target of ban-happy religious groups. In One Person, his heartbreaking and comic new novel, is a fictional memoir by Billy Abbott, a writer who realizes very early on that he is prone to “crushes on the wrong people”—as a kid, he is as interested in bedding Jacques, his school’s star wrestler, as he is Miss Frost, the town’s eccentric librarian. Abbot is bisexual, though he rejects the idea that any label can contain the whole complicated mess of a person’s sex life. He witnesses America’s sexual revolutions and counter-revolutions, from the repressive 1950s to our era of militant sexual identities. It is Irving’s most political novel yet, and yet still infused with his signature brand of literary lust. In One Person frequently plunges to near-pornographic depths, though its impact is always felt above the waistline, in the head and the heart.

In One Person
by John Irving
On shelves May 12