Monday, June 18, 2012

In One Person

It will come as no surprise to long-time readers here that I am a fan of John Irving's writing. Like most of the world, I discovered him upon publication of his fourth novel, The World According to Garp, which went on to be made into a movie, starring Robin Williams. Then came The Hotel New Hampshire, and eight subsequent novels, all of which I read, several more of which have been, or will be, made into movies. 

The books have all been better than the movies, though Irving did win an Oscar™ for his script adaptation of his novel, The Cider House Rules.

(I reviewed Last Night in Twisted River, his most recent book before this one.)

If ever a man mined his own experiences for his books, Irving has. The line between what what is real and what is cut from whole cloth is always tricky–the tendency is to assume that stuff that sounds the most autobiographical is autobiographical, but that's not always the case. Good writers will lead you astray.

Here is a graph from the wiki I found amusing, that shows some fun themes and subjects that show up in Irving's novels, and if you read the bio at the wiki, you'll see how much of his background is utilized in his work. 

Irving was raised in New England, went to a prep school, never knew his biological father, was a wrestler, had a thing for bears, and all of his books reek with sex, much of it far from the one-man-one-woman mainstream kind.

Look at the graphic: If reading about homosexuality, incest, group sex, or transsexualism bothers you, don't pick up an Irving book: He goes there, a lot.

Mainstream writers tend to shrug plot off, though Irving less so than most. These books are more about tone and mood and character, and these are horses of different colors than a whodunnit or space opera, which is where I spend most of my fictional time–I'm a simple man–I like plotted stories more than those without it.

Now and then, however, one can spice up the stew, and for me, that's Irving. In One Person reads like memoir, which will make separating the real from the made-up more difficult, if that is your wont. 

The novel's protagonist, Billy, is a writer who went to a prep school in New England, who wrestles, albeit later on, hasn't met his biological father, and who is a conflicted bisexual in his orientation. 

The opening starts with Billy's crush on the town librarian, Miss Frost, who is not quite what she seems, and the course of the novel is mostly concerned with the protagonist's ins and out in his shifting back and forth from male to female lovers. He also has a crush on his step-father, and on one of the all-boy school's star wrestlers. The book covers a period from the 1950's to the present, and jumps back and forth from one era to another.

The man can write. I still remember how, as a beginning novelist, I came across a line in The Hotel New Hampshire, a book featuring a most-dysfunctional family, about a police car nosing through a parking lot like a shark, and thinking to myself, Well, crap! What a great metaphor I won't ever be able to use because he did it!

Um. If this kind of stuff is your cup of tea, then enjoy the brew, strange as it surely is ...

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