Review: In One Person

John Irving writes a John Irving novel better than anyone else does.  That’s more of a trick than it sounds like.  More than many writers, Irving pays explicit homage to his influences and has become closely attached to a set of symbols and touchstones.  Having such a strong and imitable voice will attract parodists and rip-off artists at a surprising rate. It’s easy for a rip-off to become more noticed than the original; ask Bill Hicks.

It’s amusing that Irving has chosen to practically parody himself in In One Person. Reading it isn’t so much a game of “spot the trope” as looking for ground that hasn’t been covered by Irving before. It’s a misleading game, though.  Even as I was checking the boxes (there’s a cross dresser, there’s a wrestler, it’s a New England Prep School, Dickens story, oh, look Austria) it never felt old. It’s a nice way to make the point that individual characters and people are individuals, even if they share experiences.

And really, what Irving does better than anyone is build his characters lives that bring them into sharp focus.  There’s usually an issue of the day to address as well, of course.  The man is a Dickens disciple, after all.  While his well-wrought characters generally illuminate that issue, I always enjoy them just for their clockwork completeness and emotional verisimilitude.

In One Person has a lot to say about the lives of non-heterosexuals (that sounds PC, but Irving covers a fair amount of this ground) that is certainly worth hearing.  Irving says it all by walking a real person through that world and inviting us along. Writers have been doing that since Dickens (at least), but few as well.


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