As we know, I recently completed Irving’s newest novel, In One Person. I had acquired it for a book club at work, which I had never previously participated, but this title seemed to be a good place to start. Because I love John Irving.
While my company is obviously comprised of people of differing genders, ages, etc, the discussion group for In One Person was solely young females. And as we discussed the novel, we all said the same thing—Irving was someone we knew plenty about, having read read his works since high school.
Is there something about him that my generation is drawn to? He’s been publishing for decades, but I find it interesting that the only people at this month’s group were exactly like me—bookish women around the same age, having read Irving for at least the past decade. We knew his style. We knew his subjects (boarding school; wrestling; sexuality). And we treated Irving like an old, familiar friend, admiring the book while also teasing it, like we had some sort of divine right to do so.
But when we all read him in high school, these themes were unheard of: That someone would so openly discuss touchy subjects, and in such a literary fashion. I’m sure we all read Judy Blume. Or sneaked off with women’s magazines. And those were okay, but they weren’t John Irving; we immediately admired him, and would do so for years to come.
For me, he was part of my introduction to “real writing.” John Irving and Kurt Vonnegut are still of my favorite authors, because I discovered them at an impressionable age. Here is someone different, who knows how to write, and provides material we’ve never seen. And of course, after a while you recognize Irving’s repeating themes. But that didn’t stop us from reading it.
And even if we sit around the table and tease his next book for taking place in New Hampshire and having a questionable mother/son relationship, we will still be emotionally attached to it. Because nothing is going to change the minds of our inner 15-year-olds, and he’s become a huge part of who we are.