05-29-12 UPDATE:Podcast Update: Time to Read Episode 46: John Irving, 'In One Person'
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Here's the forty-sixth episode of my new series of podcasts, which I'm calling Time to Read. The podcasts/radio broadcasts will be of books worth your valuable reading time. I'll try to keep the reports under four minutes, for a radio-friendly format. If you want to run them on your show or podcast, let me know.
My hope is that in under four minutes I can offer readers a concise review and an opportunity to hear the author read from or speak about the work. I'm hoping to offer a new one every week.
The forty-sixth episode is a look at John Irving, 'In One Person.'
"There ought to be something you're afraid of in every novel that you write."
— John Irving
John Irving has presence. He has it in his voice and he has it when he walks into the room. Everywhere he goes, he's bringing about ten books to be written with him, in his mind. Up until recently, one of those books was 'In One Person.' But he's written that one now, after twelve or so years carrying it about. He thought that such a book might not have to be written, after 'The World According to Garp.' But the world according to reality was having none of it.
Yes, he told me during our conversation at KQED, arguably things have improved in this country and this world so far as accepting sexual differences goes. We no longer live in the early 1960's, the time during which much of 'In One Person' takes place. But the forces that want to cling to the past are strong (and yes, Irving calls them out quite specifically). One step forward is followed by two back. And what might have been a people at peace with their different proclivities, their various genetic destinies, are instead a people engaged in a war of attrition.
All of this is to day that John Irving has something very specific in mind with 'In One Person.' But he also has his own genetically destined compositional proclivities. He's going to write a big novel, with lots of people doing lots of stuff. He loves plot, and by plot he does not mean car chases; he means people living their lives in the outlandish manner that we all seem to live our lives.
Irving and I discussed his newest book in a manner so as not to reveal too much about the plot, or what happens to whom. Still, he admits, there are developments in all of his books that are easily foreseeable. 'In One Person' is obviously such a novel. It is also unabashedly engaging, and charming. Irving writes about sex explicitly in a manner that brings the reader in to a comfortable range. And damn, so we care about these people, whether we want to or not. And just as the world is not kind to us, so too, John Irving finds that he is often not kind to his characters. It can be frustrating, but it is also, inevitably, what keeps his novels seeming alive.
Of course it was only after our interview, when we were outside the studio that I thought about the movies, and then, only in the context of "reading is a very different and to my mind far superior experience to movies." But for me at least, 'In One Person' did seem to be the sort of book that could be adapted into a movie, or better still, a cable TV series that could derive all the benefits of Irving's layered characterizations. Irving told me that he had been talking with Lasse Hallström about another collaboration along the lines of The Cider House Rules.
05-04-13: Commentary : Reasons Not to Leave the House, Reality Check : The Truth Hurts Edition: 'Down the Up Escalator' by Barbara Garson, 'The Wolf and the Watchman' by Scott C. Johnson,'The Book of Woe' by Gary Greenberg, 'Confessions of a Sociopath' by M. E. Thomas