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In One Person by John Irving []



I’m glad I read John Irving’s In One Person, though I almost gave up on it in the first few pages. The rambling conversational tone took some getting used to, and the sexually explicit language did not yet seem justified. Something in the quirky characterization of the protagonist, Billy, kept me reading and as the conversational tone became familiar and Irving’s wonderful story telling took over, I soon found it difficult to put the book down.

What began as a strangely narrated story of a quirky child soon becomes an engaging coming-of-age story, then a touching examination of the life of a bisexual man in a world that is deeply uncomfortable with his bisexuality and the gender bending behavior of those he loves, and eventually a stark look at the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

Over the course of the novel John Irving illustrates the changing attitudes towards cross-dressers and transwoman in American society from the 1940s until the turn of the millennium. While his portraits are certainly not representative they are believable and always sympathetic.

There is nothing titillating about In One Person despite its sexually explicit language and themes. This is a story about friendships, crushes, prejudice and acceptance.

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