Monday, April 2, 2012

In One Person by John Irving

In One PersonIn One Person by John Irving
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was looking very forward to reading this book before I got it. The last John Irving I had read was The Cider House Rules and My Movie Business about making the movie for Cider. Both were good books, not excellent, but very good. Irving has a unique style of writing, some writers occasionally go off on tangents, for Irving the whole book is a tangent. The plot is moved ahead by rememberances of this that have passed in a usually non-linear remberence.

What I ultimaely liked about Cider House was that you could write a novel about abortion and make a 500 page book contain 495 pages that were not about abortion, with so many side roads and side stories you get lost on the way. But the thing that I think held the book together was the abortion thread, that despite the many pages about things like the main character's first fumblings with a girl in a drive in movie theatre ( I remember that from reading the book 10 years ago), the book was going somewhere.

With In One Person, who knows where the book is going, and frankly, who cares. I got this along with two other people I know and all of us have put it down and stopped reading. I had been determined to plow through until I hit page 180, and the person the narrator had sex with was just to ridiculous, so unbeliveable, I gave up. I am done.

The main character is not relatable or nice, or anything other than bland. The only character I cared about was Kitenridge and even him I couldn't remember his first name - and he says in the beginning nothing ever happened with Kitenridge so I knew it wasn't going anywhere.

The book is a hodge-podge of genders and crushes and Shakespere and summers in Austria, but it really doesn't go anywhere, it's not going to be anything you care about, and while I would have brief moments where I cared about what happened, something else would turn me off and I would always be looking for any excuse to read something else.

Untimately as I said, despite all this I was still determined to get through it, then the sex on page 180 happened and I was done. The spell, however lightly cast, was broken.

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Anonymous said...

Too bad the book didn't appeal to you. I found Billy Abbott to be one of Irving's best characters -- up there with Garp, Dr. Larch, Owen Meany, Ruth Cole, Jack Burns and Ketchum (the old logger from LAST NIGHT IN TWISTED RIVER). Not only that, but the characters of Miss Frost (the heart of the novel to Billy's muscle and soul), Mary Dean (Billy's mom) and even Kittridge, all go through very big transformations (Billy becomes a much stronger willed, more caring, individual), which is why "The Tempest" figures so prominently. And if read in tandem with A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, it seems obvious that IN ONE PERSON is the literary antithesis of that book in a lot of ways (characters and and attitudes toward sexuality become almost mirror images of each other). Even the structure of this new novel -- written like a memoir -- is nearly the opposite of "Owen Meany" (a straightforward narrative pepppered with entries from a journal). You might want to give the book another try. As a story about transformation and the sexual intolerance of American society, it works very well, indeed

Anonymous said...

Forgot to add, to my comment above, posted on Apr 17 at 5:38pm, that, like you, my initial reaction to Abbott's first sexual experience was one of incredulity --then I remembered not-so-long ago stories of Christian teens and preteens doing the same thing. And after finishing the novel, I ran across this short interview with Irving in which the encounter we both balked at was proven to have been lifted from his own life.

dunnadam said...

I didn't understand the Shakespeare, which is perhaps another reason I didn't get the book. To call Miss Frost the heart of the book when she grabs him and fucks him seems far fetched. Also Kitenridge sleeping with his mother wasn't great for me. There's a point where you push so many buttons, one of them explodes, as happened here in this book with me.

Anonymous said...

Actually, stating that the character Miss Frost "grabs" Billy Abbott and sleeps with him is either hyperbole or bad memory on your part. Abbott gets a crush on Miss Frost and swoons over her for years. When he enters his late teens and begins understanding his own sexuality, and talking to others about it (including Miss Frost), the two end up alone and Miss Frost has a sexual experience with Abbott -- albeit one that _doesn't_ involve penetration by either party. Since Miss Frost kept trying to dissuade Billy from his crush on her, among other things, and since she was the one who helped him understand (and not be ashamed of) his sexuality, as well as the one who helped him understand literature when he wanted to be a writer, she is, indeed, the heart of the book -- and an exceptionally kind and understanding character (when the shit hits the fan, so to speak, she even takes all the heat). Just because people have a sexual appetite, and respond to others, doesn't make them predators.

Your lack of understanding regarding Shakespeare --even when Irving (who is always good about not being obdurate in his explantions, or with his themes and symbols)points out, via the narration, what "The Tempest" is all about -- is, indeed, suprising. But I doubt it's the reason you didn't "get" the book. You seem a bit conservative, a common affliction amongst my fellow citizens in America (I'm living abroad again, so I _have_ had other people with whom I could compare and make observations over the decades). And since this is definitely Irving's most liberal-minded book (which is saying something, indeed), and his most sexual book since THE 158-POUND MARRIAGE, it may very well be too much for you in that regard. As for Kittridge, it should be pointed out that even the other characters -- Billy Abbott and especially Elaine -- also find him objectionable (which is why they hate themselves for being even slightly attracted to him).