I am an active member of goodreads, and I started thinking that I should be posting the reviews I write here as well. So here you are:
In One Person by John Irving
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
One of the questions I am asked most frequently at readings is who my favorite authors are. And my answer always (always!) enthusiastically includes John Irving. A Prayer for Owen Meany and The World According to Garp rank high on my Top Ten of All Time Favorites list. And so it is with a heavy heart that I write this review.
In One Person has all the ingredients of a classic Irving novel: "sexual suspects," boarding schools, wrestlers, an absent father, Irving's acrobatic prose and impeccable comedic timing, the Dickensian span of the narrator's life. (There are even some "bears" near the end of the novel...you'll see when you read it.) But somehow, for me, the ingredients do not make a satisfying meal in the end. It's a souffle that should taste great, but isn't cooked all the way through and falls, hopelessly flat in the dish.
Here is the problem; I have read almost every John Irving novel. I know his tricks. And I could anticipate every single one in this novel. Nothing in this book surprised me. Not one thing. Owen Meany's success is grounded in the potency of the disparate elements coming together in the end. All that basketball practice! It was brilliant. But it ruins the wrestling maneuver in In One Person I know exactly how important that duck-hold will be in the end. This happens repeatedly throughout the novel: foreshadowing that calls such attention to itself (for readers of Irving's previous work anyway), that you can't help but to anticipate that which it foreshadows. I felt like one magician watching another magician perform. John Irving's own novels ruined this novel for me.
I also felt like the characters lacked realistic emotional responses. The book is about sex, for God's sake. About relationships. But even the AIDS epidemic's appearance late in the novel failed to elicit much of anything from our narrator. I wanted to feel the heartache that I felt when Garp loses his son. I wanted to be thrilled in the way I was at the end of Owen Meany. I wanted that Irving magic. But instead, I saw through all the smoke and mirrors, and it just made me feel sad.
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