Irving explores bisexuality in latest best seller

Fri Jun 29, 2012 8:38am EDT
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By Andrea Burzynski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Author John Irving's latest book, "In One Person," is his most politically charged novel since his 1980s best sellers, "The Cider House Rules" and "A Prayer for Owen Meany."

Irving's 13th book is about a bisexual boy from rural Vermont named Billy Abbott who has crushes on the wrong people, including his town's transgender librarian. He learns to navigate his relationships in a world that consistently views him as suspect.

After its release last month, "In One Person" quickly became a best seller and earned praise from Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.

Irving, 70, spoke with Reuters about the politics of his latest novel, bisexuality and recurring themes in his work.

Q: LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) issues are a hot political topic right now, but the discourse doesn't touch much on the "B" or "T" as frequently. Why choose to write Billy as bisexual and include several transgendered characters?

A: "For many gay men of my generation, the bisexual man was disbelieved. He was perceived for the most part as a gay guy who lacked the courage to come all the way out of the closet. I think young gay men today are far more accepting or tolerant of the bisexual man than many gay men of my generation were. It was purposeful on my part to make Billy a bisexual so that he would feel the sting of that solitariness and be aware of the distrust of his gay and straight friends alike.

"That was a deliberate choice, just as it seemed only logical to me for a character like Billy that he would find these two transgender women at either end of his life - of different ages and from different eras - very sympathetic if only because he recognizes that they are as marginalized and distrusted by society as he is. They are as you say the "BT" part the "LGBT" abbreviation, but they get a little less attention - that's all. I was very conscious of making that choice for exactly those reasons. If you're going to test the waters of our tolerance for sexual differences, well let's really test it."

Q: "In One Person" takes place over Billy's lifetime, so he is about your age when he is looking back and retelling things. From that perspective, how do think the plight of sexual minorities has changed over that time?   Continued...

Authors J.K. Rowling (C), John Irving (L) and Stephen King attend a news conference together before a charity reading event in New York, August 1, 2006. REUTERS/Mike Segar