John Irving

Amazon • Barnes & Noble • IndieBoundPowell’s

“I’m going to begin by telling you about Miss Frost.”

A personal introduction of In One Person from John Irving.

In One Person is about a young bisexual man who falls in love with an older transgender woman—Miss Frost, the librarian in a Vermont public library.  The bi guy is the main character, but two transgender women are the heroes of this novel—in the sense that these two characters are the ones my bisexual narrator, Billy Abbott, most looks up to.

Billy is not me.  He comes from my imagining what I might have been like if I’d acted on all my earliest impulses as a young teenager.  Most of us don’t ever act on our earliest sexual imaginings.  In fact, most of us would rather forget them—not me.  I think our sympathy for others comes, in part, from our ability to remember our feelings—to be honest about what we felt like doing.  Certainly, sexual tolerance comes from being honest with ourselves about what we have imagined sexually.

Those adults who are always telling children and young adults to abstain from doing everything—well, they must have never had a childhood or an adolescence (or they’ve conveniently forgotten what they were like when they were young).

When I was a boy, I imagined having sex with my friends’ mothers, with girls my own age—yes, even with certain older boys among my wrestling teammates.  It turned out that I liked girls, but the memory of my attractions to the “wrong” people never left me.  What I’m saying is that the impulse to bisexuality was very strong; my earliest sexual experiences—more important, my earliest sexual imaginings—taught me that sexual desire is mutable.  In fact, in my case—at a most formative age—sexual mutability was the norm.  What made me a writer was definitely a combination of what I read and what I imagined—especially, what I imagined sexually.

Billy meets the transgender librarian, Miss Frost, because he goes to the library seeking novels about “crushes on the wrong people.”  Miss Frost starts him out with the Brontë sisters—specifically, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.  She expresses less confidence in Fielding’s Tom Jones, which she also gives Billy.  As she puts it, “If one can count sexual escapades as one result of crushes—”

Later, when Billy has become an avid reader and he returns to the library confessing his crush on an older boy on the wrestling team, Miss Frost—who has earlier given Billy novels by Dickens and Hardy—gives him Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room.  (This is the same night she seduces him.)

“We are formed by what we desire,” Billy tells us—in the first paragraph of the first chapter.  He adds: “I desired to become a writer and to have sex with Miss Frost—not necessarily in that order.”

Later in the novel, Billy realizes this about himself: “I knew that no one person could rescue me from wanting to have sex with men and women.”

My first-person novels are confessional stories about sexually taboo subjects.  The 158-Pound Marriage is about wife-swapping.  The narrator of The Hotel New Hampshire is incestuously in love with his sister.  Johnny Wheelwright, the narrator of A Prayer for Owen Meany, is called (behind his back) a “nonpracticing homosexual”; his love for Owen Meany is repressed.  I always saw Johnny as a deeply closeted homosexual who would never come out.  In One Person is a much shorter novel than Owen Meany, and Billy is an easier first-person voice to be in—Billy is very out.

Billy says: “I wanted to look like a gay boy — or enough like one to make other gay boys, and men, look twice at me.  But I wanted the girls and women to wonder about me — to make them look twice at me, too.  I wanted to retain something provocatively masculine in my appearance.”  Billy remembers when he is cast as Ariel in The Tempest, and Richard (the director) tells him that Ariel’s gender is “mutable.”  (Richard tells Billy that the sex of angels is mutable, too.)  Billy later says: “I suppose I was trying to look sexually mutable, to capture something of Ariel’s unresolved sexuality.”  He concludes: “There is no one way to look bisexual, but that was the look I sought.”

Billy doesn’t start out so sure of himself.  “You’re a man, aren’t you?” he asks Miss Frost, when he discovers that she used to be a man.  “You’re a transsexual!” he tells her, accusingly.

Miss Frost speaks sharply to him: “My dear boy, please don’t put a label on me—don’t make me a category before you get to know me!”

As Billy learns—in part, from being bisexual—our genders and orientations do not define us.  We are somehow greater than our sexual identities, but our sexual identities matter.

NEW: Paperback: Amazon • Barnes & Noble • IndieBound

Hardcover: Amazon • Barnes & Noble • IndieBound

E-Book: Amazon KindleBarnes & Noble NookApple iBookstore

Audiobook: AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBoundAudibleApple iTunes


In the clip below John discusses In One Person. To see more videos click here.

[youtube_wpress id=”8r4lwie1110″ thumbnail=”1″ thumbnail_type=”0″]


Listen to an exclusive clip from the audiobook of In One Person, read by Tony Award-winning actor John Benjamin Hickey.

Browse Recent News

Cat Without Eyes: A Video Reading

In June, John Irving gave a reading in Toronto at the launch of Brick's Issue 95. The reading was an excerpt from his essay “Cat Without Eyes." Brick is "where the world’s best-loved writers have wide, lively, personal discussions about art, culture, and the written word." The whole essay can be read by picking up ...

Read More

John Benjamin Hickey on Narrating the In One Person Audiobook

John Benjamin Hickey on Narrating the In One Person Audiobook

Tony Award-winning actor John Benjamin Hickey discusses his experience reading for the "In One Person" audiobook.

Read More

John Irving discusses In One Person

John Irving discusses In One Person

In this video John discusses his thirteenth novel, In One Person, and his bisexual narrator and main character, Billy Abbott. As Billy says: "We are formed by what we desire."

Read More

John Irving reads from In One Person

John Irving reads from In One Person

John reads from the beginning of In One Person: I’m going to begin by telling you about Miss Frost. While I say to everyone that I became a writer because I read a certain novel by Charles Dickens at the formative age of fifteen, the truth is I was younger than that ...

Read More

John Irving introduces Billy Abbott

John Irving introduces Billy Abbott

John Irving introduces Billy Abbott, the bisexual narrator of In One Person. "If you were, like me, at an all-boys' boarding school in the fall of 1960, you felt utterly alone—you trusted no one, least of all another boy your age—and you loathed yourself. I'd always been lonely, but self-hatred is worse than loneliness." -- ...

Read More

The World According to John Irving: Documentary

The World According to John Irving: Documentary

[youtube_wpress id="kTDR4iLHTYo" thumbnail="1" thumbnail_type="0"] A documentary about John Irving has just been released from German filmmaker André Schaefer, called "John Irving und wie er die Welt sieht" ("The World According to John Irving"). Here a link to the film's website (German text).

Read More

Tagged with →  

16 Responses to In One Person

  1. […] discuss Irving’s process of writing and his body of work, including his newest novel, In One Person. It’s described on the DMA website as his most political book in years, “a tender […]

  2. […] In One Person (finished over a beer at a lovely Irish pub) […]

  3. […] In One Person, John Irving’s newest novel. Book number one in the 50 books in one year […]

  4. […] behind the scenes at Michael Silverblatt‘s Bookworm show. Irving reads from his new novel, In One Person, while kittens tumble around the sound booth–a cuddly set of real life galley […]

  5. […] See summary at John […]

  6. […] read five books at night since I submitted my manuscript:  John Irving’s IN ONE PERSON (supposedly compelling but lacked sufficient action), Ian McEwan’s SWEET TOOTH (not a […]

  7. […] In One Person: John Irving’s The World According to Garp is one of my favorite books, but I’ve fallen behind in reading his more recent works. My mom passed this one along to me in hardcover, no less, and […]

  8. Elana Carello says:

    What the hell? Why give that away about Miss Frost???

  9. Carny Foreleg says:

    It’s pretty obvious from the beginning and has little effect on the story as a whole.

  10. Elana Carello says:

    Ummm, no.

  11. John Melskens says:

    I love that book – every book by John Irving gets better, it seams…

  12. […] John Irving: In One Person. […]

  13. […] Irvings roman I en människa är en berättelse som både griper tag i och utmanar toleransen hos sina läsares. Precis som […]

  14. […] Nobody writes characters like John Irving. In One Person is about a young bisexual man who falls in love with an older transgender woman—Miss Frost, the librarian in a Vermont public library.   More […]

  15. emma says:

    page turner – like all your wonderful books. When is the next one out???

  16. JT says:

    Mr Irving,
    I loved In One Person. I listened to it on Audio Book, as I’m a very slow reader. I savor each sentence so much I read like twice as slow as most people. Thank you for writing such an authentic book. I am newly identifying as transgender at age 48! Male to Female, and a friend handed me your book. God Bless you for handling this so sweetly. By the way, my heart ached for Billy to reconnect with Miss Frost as lovers either earlier or later, but that would have been so beautiful too. It just added to the bittersweet preciousness of life that they wouldn’t. It was sweet to “see coming” some of the plot set ups like the duck under used to the football bully…you had me crying and cheering, as I am even right now writing this, save the cheering. Thank you, thank you. — Jenn Tyler, Kaua’i