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IN ONE PERSON by John Irving Kirkus Star

IN ONE PERSON

By John Irving

Pub Date: May 8th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-6412-6
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Billy Dean (aka Billy Abbott) has a difficult time holding it together in one person, for his bisexuality pulls him in (obviously) two different directions.

Billy comes of age in what is frequently, and erroneously, billed as a halcyon and more innocent age, the 1950s. The object of his first love—or at least his first “sexual awakening”— is Miss Frost, the librarian at the municipal library in the small town of First Sister, Vt. While Miss Frost’s small breasts and large hands might have been a tip-off—and the fact that in a previous life she had been known as Al Frost—Billy doesn’t quite get it until several years later, when the librarian seduces him. At almost the same time he becomes aware of Miss Frost as an erotic object, he develops an adolescent attraction to Jacques Kittredge, athlete and general Golden Boy at the academy they attend. And Billy also starts to have conflicted feelings toward Elaine, daughter of a voice teacher attached to the academy. (As Irving moves back and forth over the different phases of Billy’s sexual life, we find he later consummates, but not happily, his relationship with Elaine.) We also learn of Billy’s homoerotic relationships with Tom, a college friend, and with Larry, a professor Billy had studied with overseas. And all of these sexual attractions and compulsions play out against the background of Billy’s unconventional family (his grandfather was known for his convincing portrayals of Shakespeare heroines—and he began to dress these parts offstage as well) and local productions of Shakespeare and Ibsen.

Woody Allen’s bon mot about bisexuality is that it doubled one’s chances for a date, but in this novel Irving explores in his usual discursive style some of the more serious and exhaustive consequences of Allen’s one-liner.