by John Irving
Simon and Schuster, 425 pp., US$28.00
The narrator’s voice, boisterous and affable, relies heavily on exclamation points and italicized words and will often return to certain ideas in case the reader didn’t get them the first time. Almost every character has a distinctive gesture by which he or she is identified, and portraiture is managed with broad brushstrokes. The prose tends to avoid ambiguity and solitary introspection and the dreaded verbs of consciousness: “‘thinking, wishing, hoping, wondering’—that shit!” Most thoughts and feelings the narrator has are either acted out or confided to a willing listener. Even the inevitable deathbed scenes are described with a certain writerly élan.
In One Person combines several genres. It is a novel about a bisexual man’s coming out grafted onto a coming-of-age story, grafted onto a portrait-of-the-artist, grafted onto a theater novel. The book is very entertaining and relies on verbal showmanship even when the events narrated are grim, a tonal incongruity characteristic of this author. The book’s theme, its fixed idea, is that actors and writers and bisexuals harbor many persons within one person.