Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Nation of Cowards?

A few years ago, Attorney General Eric Holder stirred up some controversy when he remarked that, when it comes to discussions on race, we are a nation of cowards. Author John Irving seems to be positing a similar belief about our discomfort in regards to talking about sex. After all, we're the country that says it's ok for women in uniform to kill but it's not acceptable for them to breast feed their babies. What?
I had been eagerly anticipating Irving's latest novel, In One Person, since I heard him interviewed on Diane Rehm's show several months ago. This is one righteously angry man! Lesbian women, gay men, bi-sexual adults, transgendered people and cross dressers all get their shot at self respect in this thought provoking look at the everyday lives of some marvelous characters, all trying to discover their true selves, over the course of America's long and winding road to acceptance.

I couldn't help but fall half in love with the narrator, William (Billy) Abbott. After all, we spend almost 60 years with him, beginning with his first trip to the public library, (yes, readers, the public library! Thank you John Irving), where he meets a woman who will change his life. No, it isn't a cliche. She's a gloriously independent, open minded, wonderful character whose library becomes a safe haven for Billy and his friends. And readers, you'll love all of the literary references!

If you're familiar with Irving's work then you'll likely recognize the small New Hampshire town, the boys' school where wrestling matches and Shakespearean plays are equally well attended. The small town atmosphere can be stifling or nourishing, a place where Billy's cross-dressing grandpa is revered but a place from which Billy, who worries about his attraction to both girls and boys, will flee.

To Europe, San Francisco and New York, Billy wanders, honing his craft as a writer, loving men and women in equal numbers, always returning to his best friend Elaine for comfort and for support throughout the '80's as the AIDS epidemic hits its peak, the drug cocktail still only in trials, and entire hospitals are designated for the dying.

If you haven't known a family member or friend suffering through the angst of a sexual identity crisis, this novel would be a  perfect primer. The confusion, self doubt, prejudice, even a hatred turned cruelly inward, will affect everyone in its orbit, as Irving so deftly shows us.

This is a big hearted novel, one that will have you laughing and crying. It's so full of compassion, indignation, explanation, a cri de coeur from John Irving to his readers, asking us to open our hearts and minds to all human beings, gay, straight, and all the colors of the rainbow in between. For me, In One Person is right up on that pedestal with the heartbreaking, Cider House Rules.


Anonymous said...

Can't wait, it's loaded on my Nook!
Miss you, Sal! Come baaaaack!

Sallyb said...

Oh, how lovely to hear from you! I always think, when there's not comments, that no one reads or cares what the heck I'm putting out there in the cyber world. I think you'll really like it. Oh, not ready to come back. So sorry. What about that Supreme Ct. ruling today?