John Irving, 2010

John Irving, 2010

John Irving’s latest novel, “In One Person.” is narrated by a young bisexual man named Billy Abbot. As a teenager at a New England all-boys prep school in the 1950s, he has crushes on “the wrong people,” including the town’s transgendered librarian and the wrestling team’s golden boy. In the 1980s, he witnesses the horror of the AIDS epidemic. Throughout his life, he experiences the loneliness of knowing no one person can fully satisfy him. Irving first introduced the term, “sexual suspect” three decades ago in his National Book Award- winning novel, “The World According to Garp.” He joins Diane to discuss why he has returned to the issues of sexual identity and intolerance in his thirteenth novel.

Guests

  • John Irving author

Program Highlights

Award-wining author John Irving’s 13th novel, “In One Person,” is the coming-of-age portrait of Billy Abbott, a bisexual teenager who struggles with his sexual identity. He talked with Diane about his experiences discovering how varied his own sexual desires were as he came of age. Irving also said one of his sons, who is gay, was the sort of ideal reader he had in mind for the novel – though he didn’t write it because of, or for, his son.

Writing About Politics

Irving said the novel is his most political since he wrote the best-selling books, “The Cider House Rules” and “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” He said, like all of his novels, he waits at least a decade after an event or national debate before writing about them. “In One Person” follows the life of a bisexual man growing up in the 1950s before the AIDS epidemic. Irving said the reader knows AIDS is coming and that some of Billy’s closest friends will die from it. “We know that’s a collision waiting,” Irving said.

Comparison To Shakespeare

Irving said the book’s title comes from an excerpt from William Shakespeare’s play, “Richard II.” He said it’s ironic that Shakespeare seemed more comfortable with talking about the mutability of sexuality and gender than Americans are today. “It’s merely surprising to me as an American, how resistant many Americans still are to the subject of sexual tolerance. We are truly a repressive and juvenile country sexually.”

White House Support For Gay Marriage

During a “Meet the Press” interview over the weekend, Vice President Joe Biden said he was perfectly comfortable with same-sex marriage. Diane asked Irving about his reaction to Biden’s remarks. Irving called Biden’s comments “brave,” and said he wished President Barack Obama would stop procrastinating on the gay marriage issue. “I’ve heard him use the word evolve about his own feelings toward gay marriage. I think it’s time he continued the evolving. I wish he’d get to it,” Irving said about Obama.

Irving’s Upbringing

Irving said he had a fortunate childhood, growing up around people who gave him a lot of attention and cared deeply about his education. “I wish education were more of a priority in this country too, along with sexual equality,” Irving said. He said his sexual desires were “various and everywhere.” He said he was attracted to his friends’ mothers, to young girls his own age and to some older boy wrestlers. “I think many of us, we don’t remember what we were like when we were 13 going on 16. We don’t want to remember that. I don’t believe I’m the only boy who ever was attracted to just about everyone,” Irving said.

You can read the full transcript here.

Video Extra: John Irving

John Irving talks about his own sexual coming of age and the fact that he remembers his desire being “all over the map.” He says as a teenager he was attracted to girls his own age, his friends’ mothers, and some of the older boys on his wrestling team. He believes that having had varied desires, remembering them, and being honest about them has made him more compassionate and open-minded person when it comes to the question of sexual orientation:

Read An Excerpt

“In One Person” by John Irving. Copyright 2012 by John Irving. Excerpted here by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved:

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. John Irving has just published his 13th novel. He says it's his most political since "The Cider House Rules" and "A Prayer for Owen Meany." "In One Person" is a portrait of a bisexual man who's dedicated to making himself worthwhile. Award-winning, best-selling author John Irving joins me in the studio. I look forward to hearing your questions and comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you. It's good to see you again.

  • 11:07:43

    MR. JOHN IRVINGGood morning. How are you?

  • 11:07:44

    REHMJust fine and wonderful to have you here again. We were talking about when you were last here. And I think it was for "Owen Meany."

  • 11:07:57

    IRVINGThat's a long time ago.

  • 11:07:59

    REHMLong time ago.

  • 11:08:00

    IRVING'89 in fact.

  • 11:08:01

    REHMAll right. So you have called this the most political novel yet. Tell me what you mean by that.

  • 11:08:15

    IRVINGWell, like all my novels this one was waiting for 10, almost 12 years to be written. And at the time it was waiting, largely fully formed a decade ago, I don't know that it felt as political as it feels now. In fact, if you look back to "The World According to Garp," which I finished in 1978, I imagined at that time that the subject of intolerance of our sexual differences would never tempt me to write about it again. I thought I was happily done with that subject, which made me mad when I was writing about it in the '70s. And it's made me mad, sadly, yet again.

  • 11:09:18

    IRVINGI should say, of course, that the "The World According to Garp" is a more radical, more satirical, more extreme novel about intolerance of sexual differences than "In One Person" in that in Garp's case, he was murdered by a woman who hates men and his mother is killed by a man who hates women. It's a dual sexual assassination story. There's nothing that extreme or that cynical, in my view, about this novel, "In One Person."

  • 11:09:58

    IRVINGBut it is, alas, once again a subject about our obdurate, our obstinate difficulties to accept our sexual differences, our so-called sexual minorities.

  • 11:10:14

    REHMAnd as we talk about "In One Person", John Irving's latest novel, I do want to shout out a cautionary comment to people who may be listening who might be offended, might have concerns about exposing themselves or exposing young people to the subject of transgender individuals, homosexuality and marriage and hostility and all of the issues that go with a novel like "In One Person."

  • 11:11:04

    IRVINGWell, wouldn't you at the same time want to caution young people about the sexual intolerance that is, sadly, every day in our midst? Witness what you were just talking about, the ballot in North Carolina, the ban against same-sex marriage. The dinosaurs, the troglodytes appear to have advanced their position, but...

  • 11:11:36

    REHMYou bet.

  • 11:11:36

    IRVING...I hope it's a dying position.

  • 11:11:38

    REHMWell, it is a position now held by some 30 states. And I think that a great many people would prefer that we did not talk about it, which is why I'm so glad to have you here this morning. Tell us about Billy Abbot, the central character in your book.

  • 11:12:10

    IRVINGWe are listening, in Billy Abbot's case, to a first person narrative from the point of view of a bisexual man. We know very early in the first chapter that we are listening to a man of my generation, in his late 60s almost 70. Though more than 50 percent of this book is focused on Billy's teenage and adolescent years when he is remembering himself in late 1950s and early '60s as a boy coming of sexual age at a time when his own sexual attractions were confusing to him and so various that he was frightened of many of them.

  • 11:13:04

    IRVINGIn fact, like many of my novels, it begins in that point of view of a young person on the cusp of adulthood, innocent about many things, not just sexual things, but sexual things, too, who is about to emerge as an adult. I like that situation where my reader knows more about what's happening to Billy than Billy himself knows. And when Billy falls in love with the older woman librarian I think most of my readers will be well ahead of Billy in guessing that this older woman is a transgender woman, that she is at the time called a transsexual.

  • 11:13:51

    IRVINGBilly is the last to know that this is the older woman that he has fallen in love with, but it was very purposeful of me to position like a bookend at the end of this story another transgender woman, a young boy who believes he was born in the wrong body and was meant to be a girl. A young boy who we see make that transition to becoming a young woman and how Billy meets as an older man and believes he can be of some assistance to, of some help to.

  • 11:14:27

    IRVINGMaybe what I'm saying a part of my choice to write about a bisexual man in the first place was I was deliberately choosing a sexual outsider, a sexual misfit, a sexual minority to the degree that Billy will be distrusted by gay men who believe, at least many gay me of my generation believed, that a bisexual man was simply a gay man with one foot still in the closet. To many straight men a bisexual man was simply a gay guy. The gay part was all that registered with them.

  • 11:15:04

    IRVINGAnd to many straight women a bisexual man was doubly untrustworthy. He might leave you for another woman or for a guy. So it was purposeful of me to sort of choose someone who was an outsider and who might Billy most heroize and look up to in this story. But these two transgender women, who in his estimation are arguably as marginalized and distrusted as he is.

  • 11:15:36

    REHMMiss Abbot (sic) who is the town librarian and Billy does live in a small town, titled First Sister, Vermont and there's an academy he attends called Favorite River Academy. The librarian in that small town is Miss Abbot. And she introduces Billy to books that she feels will help him understand the world. What books does she give him?

  • 11:16:27

    IRVINGIt's Billy's stepfather whom he adores, who he has more than a small crush on, in fact. It's Billy's stepfather who takes him to the library to choose books for himself because heretofore Billy's books have been selected for him by his mother and his aunt and they have not been much to his liking to the degree that Billy's mother says, oh, Billy's just not a reader. But the stepfather, who's a good guy, says, well, what are you interested in, Billy? And Billy confides to him that he's interested in the subject of crushes on the wrong people.

  • 11:17:12

    IRVINGI suppose if I hadn't chose "In One Person" as the title for this novel, I could have chosen crushes on the wrong people. It works just as well, you know. So Billy puts himself in the librarian's hands as to what subjects she might find to select for him that fall into this dubious category of crushes on the wrong people. And Miss Frost, of course, knows that a significant amount of literature has indeed been devoted to crushes on the wrong people. And so she directs him accordingly.

  • 11:17:56

    REHMBut you had taken the title of this book from Shakespeare's Richard II. Read that for us.

  • 11:18:07

    IRVING"Thus play I, in one person, many people and none contented." Act 5, scene 5 where King Richard is about to die, justly so. I like that phrase, in one person. And I'm able to play with it.

  • 11:18:31

    REHMJohn Irving. He's the author of 12 previous novels, including the National Book Award-winning, "The World According to Garp." His latest is titled, "In One Person."

  • 11:20:04

    REHMWelcome back. If you've just joined us John Irving is here. You have known, loved many of his books. "A Prayer for Owen Meany" I'm pretty sure is the last one about which he and I sat down and talked. But now here we are with what he calls his most political book yet. It's titled "In One Person," and if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. I have an email from Susan in Tulsa, Okla. who says about John Irving, "I wonder if he still looks as good in an undershirt as he used to." I must say, he looks pretty good to me, Susan.

  • 11:21:04

    REHMAnd here's another that says, "Who cares what he looks like in an undershirt? I love what he has to say" and she blows you a kiss. Are you about to read for us, John Irving? Have you found...

  • 11:21:30

    IRVINGYes. I can go a little way here.

  • 11:21:34

    REHMOkay.

  • 11:21:38

    IRVINGYou tell me when to stop.

  • 11:21:40

    REHMOkay.

  • 11:21:43

    IRVING"There was almost no one in the library that September evening. As I would later learn, there rarely was. Most remarkably there were never any children in that library. It would take me years to realize why. Two elderly women were reading on an uncomfortable looking couch. An old man had surrounded himself with stacks of books at one end of a long table but he seemed less determined to read all the books than he was driven to barricade himself from the two old ladies.

  • 11:22:15

    IRVINGThe dust long accumulated in the countless book bindings made me sneeze. Not allergic to books I hope, someone said. These were Miss Frost's first words to me. And when I turned around and saw her I couldn't speak. This boy would like a library card, Richard Abbott said. And just who would this boy be, Miss Frost asked him, not looking at me? This is Billy Dean. I'm sure you know Mary Marshall-Dean, Richard explained. Well, Bill is Mary's boy. Oh my, yes, Miss Frost exclaimed. So this is that boy.

  • 11:22:54

    IRVINGThe thing about a small town like First Sister, Vermont was that everyone knew the circumstances of my mother having me with one of those husbands in name only. I had the feeling that everybody knew the history of my dad. William Frances Dean was the disappearing kind of husband and father. And all that remained of him in First Sister, Vermont was his name with a junior tacked onto the end of it. Miss Frost may not have officially met me until this September night in 1955 but she surely knew all about me.

  • 11:23:30

    IRVINGAnd you, I presume, are not Mr. Dean. You're not this boy's father, are you, Miss Frost asked Richard. Oh no, Richard started to say. I thought not, said Miss Frost. You are then -- she waited. She had no intention of finishing that halted sentence. Richard Abbott, Richard announced. The new teacher, Miss Frost declared, hired with the fervent hope that someone at Favorite River Academy should be able to teach those boys Shakespeare. Yes, Richard said, surprised that the public librarian would know the details of the private school's mission in hiring him. Well, good luck, Miss Frost told him. I'll believe it when I see it, she added, smiling at me.

  • 11:24:19

    IRVINGAnd are you going to put on any of Shakespeare's plays, she asked Richard. I believe that's the only way to make the boys read and understand Shakespeare, Richard told her. They've got to see the plays before and better yet they've got to perform them. All those boys playing girls and women, Miss Frost speculated shaking her head. Talk about willing suspension of disbelief and all the other stuff that Culdridge (sp?) said, Miss Frost remarked, still smiling at me. I normally disliked it when someone ruffled my hair but when Miss Frost did it I just beamed back at her.

  • 11:24:59

    IRVINGThat was Culdridge, wasn't it, she asked Richard? Yes, it was, he said. He was quite taken with her I could tell and if he hadn't so recently fallen in love with my mother well, who knows. Miss Frost was a knockout in my unseasoned opinion. Not the hand that ruffled my hair but her other hand now rested on the table next to Richard Abbott's hands. Yet when Miss Frost saw me looking at her hands she took her hand off the table.

  • 11:25:29

    IRVINGI felt her fingers lightly touch my shoulder. And what might you be interested in reading, William, she asked me? It is William, isn't it? Yes, I answered her, thrilled. William sounded so grown up. Her hands, I had noticed, were much broader in the palms and longer in the fingers than Richard Abbott's hands. And standing as they were beside each other I saw that Miss Frost's upper arms were more substantial than Richard's and her shoulders were broader. She was taller than Richard, too.

  • 11:26:06

    IRVINGI was too smitten to utter a word, but Miss Frost very patiently asked me her question again, William, you're interested in reading I presume. But could you tell me if you like fiction and nonfiction and what subject in particular you prefer, Miss Frost asked. I've seen this boy at our little theater, she said suddenly to Richard. I've spotted you backstage, William. You seem very observant. Yes, I am, I scarcely managed to say.

  • 11:26:46

    IRVINGDo you know any novels about young people who have dangerous crushes? Miss Frost stared at me unflinchingly. Dangerous crushes, she repeated. Explain what's dangerous about a crush. A crush on the wrong person, I told her. I said in effect there's no such thing, Richard Abbott interjected. There are no wrong people. We're free to have crushes on anyone we want. There are no wrong people to have crushes on? Are you kidding, Miss Frost asked Richard. On the contrary, William, there is some notable literature on the subject of crushes on the wrong people, she said to me."

  • 11:27:33

    REHMJohn Irving reading from his newest novel "In One Person." And if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Richard Abbott is another person on whom Billy has a crush, his mother's new husband. What happened to the first husband?

  • 11:28:06

    IRVINGWell, that's something I don't want to give too many details about away. He's yet another missing father. We don't find out everything we need to know about him until much later in the story. I should say that the fact that there's more to know about him that Billy needs to know is a vital part of who Billy, my young bisexual narrator, is. And so maybe at this moment in time, for those who haven't read the novel, the less said about Billy's biological father the better.

  • 11:28:52

    REHMAnd what book does Miss Frost eventually give to Billy?

  • 11:29:00

    IRVINGWell, she starts him out, as she would put it, rather slowly. She begins with these seemingly innocent but not so innocent classics, "The Bronte Sisters," "Wuthering Heights" and "Jane Eyre." She's a little less sure about Fielding's "Tom Jones." She disapproves of it a bit. Eventually she works him up, she would say, to Dickens and she allows a little Hardy beginning with "Tess." She thinks "Tess" is valuable for young men to read so that they don't become like any of the men in poor Tess' life. And Billy is given an early lesson about not becoming one of those men.

  • 11:30:02

    IRVINGLater when Billy is more forthright to Miss Frost and admits his crush on an older boy at the school and says to Miss Frost more pointedly, more directly, do you have anything for me to read about crushes like that, she gives him James Baldwin's "Giovanni's Room." It's apparent -- I think it will be clear to every reader that Miss Frost knows much more about who Billy is sexually or sees who he is emerging to be sexually than Billy himself knows.

  • 11:30:44

    REHMAnd in the midst of all of this internal drama there is produced on the stage lots of other drama, including actors who are members of Billy's family, his grandfather for example. I mean, people taking on all kinds of roles that perhaps indicates that in their own minds they are more than just one person.

  • 11:31:28

    IRVINGExactly. It's ironic, isn't it, that Shakespeare seemed more at ease, more comfortable with the mutability of sexuality and gender than we are even today. The Shakespeare was chosen of course deliberately. I think this is a book about the mutability of desire, the mutability of sexual desire and the mutability of gender. It's a consideration of those things. This isn't new. It's merely surprising to me as an American how resistant many Americans still are to the subject of sexual tolerance. We are truly a repressive and juvenile country sexually.

  • 11:32:38

    REHMYou know, it's interesting to me that Billy also reads Dickens, and "Oliver Twist," when it was published, ultimately led to the first health care system in Britain. I find myself wondering whether you've written this as much for an effort to enter the political dialogue as you have because of your love of fiction.

  • 11:33:30

    IRVINGThat's a good point but one has to see Billy Abbott, this bisexual character as having many ancestors in my previous novels. And one has to also see that sexual acceptance of differences, sexual freedom, reproductive freedom are not new subjects for me. To many early readers of "In One Person," I've been asked about Billy as an extreme character sexually because of his bisexuality.

  • 11:34:18

    IRVINGI find that a funny question only because if you look at Jenny Fields, Garp's mother in "The World According to Garp," let's see what her sexual life is like. She has sex once with a comatose man and stops for life, never has it again, not interested, thank you very much. Let's look at Dr. Larch, the ether-addicted abortionist in "The Cider House Rules." He has sex once with a prostitute. Stops for life, never has sex again. Those are pretty radical choices of those two characters. No one asked me a word about those choices, not a word.

  • 11:34:59

    IRVINGLet's look at Johnny Wheelwright, the first person narrator of "A Prayer for Owen Meany," which was my last first person narrative of a novel before this one, before in one person. Johnny Wheelwright is called behind his back, not once but three times, a non-practicing homosexual. It's pretty clear that he not only loves Owen Meany as a best friend but is arguably in love with him, yet he is so repressed. So deeply a closeted gay man, if he's gay at all. He would never admit it even to himself.

  • 11:35:33

    IRVINGThe closest he comes to expressing anything like love for Owen Meany is when he says rather late in that novel just before Owen dies in Phoenix, since when would a 20-year-old actually come out and say he misses his best friend. That's as close as he comes. Well, Billy Abbott is out. He is as out as Johnny Wheelwright never will be. But what I'm saying is he has ancestors in my earlier novels. And the political agenda of a novel like "A Prayer for Owen Meany," of a novel like "The Cider House Rules" and "Of the World According to Garp." Well, those agendas I think are pretty plain.

  • 11:36:21

    REHMThis agenda, as you put it, is to open our minds to help us better understand as well as to accept in the face of what's going on in this country now?

  • 11:36:47

    IRVINGWell, you could certainly read "In One Person" in that light, but don't give me credit for being timely. Because, as we spoke earlier, it was almost 12 years ago when this novel emerged for me fully formed. And I don't know how timely it was then. Ironically what may make "In One Person" a timely novel now is the entrenched resistance among social conservatives, the entrenched resistance to gay rights issues, marriage equality among them. I can't take credit for the troglodytes, the sexual dinosaurs in our society.

  • 11:37:38

    REHMJohn Irving. His new book "In One Person." Short break, we'll be right back.

  • 11:40:05

    REHMI'm very pleased to have with me John Irving. You know him well as the author of now 13 books, 13 novels. His latest being "In One Person," all about the life of a young man we meet as a 70-year-old man looking back on his life narrating the book about his crushes on the wrong people. We've got lots of callers. We'll try to work in as many as we can and take your email and postings as well. First to Ruth, she's in Ann Arbor, Mich. Good morning to you, Ruth.

  • 11:40:58

    RUTHGood morning.

  • 11:41:00

    REHMHi there. Go right ahead, please.

  • 11:41:03

    RUTHWell, first of all, it's an honor to be speaking with both of you.

  • 11:41:07

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:41:08

    RUTHAnd my question is for Mr. Irving. You know, does he feel as though the fear that many of these people that are voting against gay rights and these issues is something that will change quickly or, you know, what -- I mean, I'm a gay woman. I'm 53 years old. So I'm just kind of amazed how slowly progress has taken. So what does he think will change things?

  • 11:41:43

    REHMHe's thinking.

  • 11:41:44

    IRVINGWell, yeah, sometimes you could say either I'm thinking or I'm depressed. Sometimes these things go together. I guess I would say, Ruth, that I wouldn't have -- I wouldn't have written about this subject of sexual intolerance again, that is after "The World According to Garp," if I felt that we had made sufficient progress in that area. And if you look at my books which are all long looks back, in the case of "In One Person" we know because we're listening to a bisexual man growing up in the '50s and '60s. We know that many of his friends and lovers and the people were meeting his characters in his story are going to encounter the AIDS epidemic in the '80s. We know that's a collision waiting.

  • 11:42:53

    IRVINGI think my sympathy for being focused on him is a way of asking the question who are you intolerant of, can I find someone you're intolerant of and why can't you change your mind. The similarity to me of the resistance to accepting abortion rights and the resistance to gay rights issues is painfully clear. And they both have about them the whiff of sexual disapproval. I remember people of my grandmother's generation saying in the 1950s and '60s when a young woman had an unwanted pregnancy that she was allegedly paying the price. She was in other words, if it was not directly said, she was sort of getting what she deserved. Well, don't think that isn't part, that whiff of sexual disapproval isn't part of the resistance to gay rights issues, marriage equality and so forth. It is.

  • 11:44:12

    IRVINGI used to say to people opposed to abortion back when "The Cider House Rules" was published, you know, if you don't like this, you're probably someone who shouldn't consider having one. And if you don't like same sex marriage, I would say the same thing. You know, the good news for you is that nobody is compelling you to marry someone of the same sex. And given the way you feel, you probably shouldn't do that and no one's making you doing that. But why are the people opposed to marriage equality or opposed to abortion, why do they insist on imposing their will on us. That is a gross inequality. And I wish I could answer your question with some optimism, but I don't think I would've written this book if I felt optimistic about it.

  • 11:45:02

    REHMHere is a posting on Facebook that says, "I had to get parental permission to read "The World According to Garp" for my sophomore high school English class. Now I'm 37 and trans-identified and I'd have to say it helped me understand that gender and sexuality questions can and do exist. I applaud Mr. Irving for writing that novel. I look forward to reading the latest book. My question, why don't more contemporary authors write about LGBT subjects? Is it still too taboo?"

  • 11:46:02

    IRVINGI think we're -- as I've said, I think we're a sexually juvenile country. We're backward sexually compared to much of Europe, for example. I don't know where that reluctance to accept sexual differences comes from in this country, a country that pays such lip service to equality and to freedom, but not to that one. It's angering. And there's no small amount of anger in the first person narrative from the point of view of this bisexual man.

  • 11:46:51

    REHMBilly watches, as you've referred to, many of his friends go through the AIDS epidemic.

  • 11:47:05

    IRVINGYou know, there's always a collision waiting in my novels and my readers are kind of -- they know what it is. They see it coming. In "The Cider House Rules" we know why the orphan, Homer Wells, doesn't want anything to do with abortion. The only thing his mother gave him was his life. She let him live. We know why he wants nothing to do with it, but we also know he's been shown how. We also know he has perfect obstetrical and gynecological procedure as the old doctor who teaches him how to do a D&C (unintelligible) . We know he is a doctor waiting to happen and it's only a matter of time in the course of that novel before that young orphan will meet a woman that he can't say no to. You know it's coming.

  • 11:47:58

    IRVINGWell, in this novel you know AIDS is coming and you know that some of these characters, Billy's closest friends, will be lost. You know that. Well, you know it's hard for me to -- the kind of novelist I am is someone who takes a long backward look. My Vietnam novel "A Prayer for Owen Meany" was written more than a decade after the end of the Vietnam War. My abortion novel "The Cider House Rules" was purposely set in the 1930s and '40s to position it as far as I could away from the current debate about abortion, to set it in a historical period. And this novel is a long look back as well.

  • 11:48:59

    IRVINGThe questions about where we're going and why we're so slow to get there, the questions about when we will finally embrace the present and recognize sexual equality as an equal rights issue, we have not accepted as a country. I wish I could say, but the future's not my business.

  • 11:49:26

    REHMWhat was your own growing up like? What was your own family like?

  • 11:49:38

    IRVINGWell, I certainly had a fortunate childhood in that I grew up around people who cared about me and who gave me a lot of attention, not least who cared deeply about the education I got. And I'm extremely grateful for that. They made it a priority. They made me make education a priority. And I wish education were more of a priority in this country too, along with sexual equality. That's the best thing I can tell you. In terms of a young man coming of age sexually, I could tell you that my desires were all over the map. I was attracted to many of my friends' mothers. I was attracted to young girls my own age. I was embarrassingly at the time attracted to some older boys on the wrestling team. It turned out that I liked girls.

  • 11:51:06

    IRVINGBut fortunately I think I never forgot that moment of coming of age when my desires were various and everywhere. And how could I then be judgmental about people who chose to act on desires I had had which I didn't act on? How could I be judgmental? I think many of us, we don't remember what we were like when we were 13 going on 16. We don't want to remember that. I don't believe I'm the only boy who ever was attracted to just about everyone.

  • 11:51:50

    REHMAnd your son has now come out as a gay man.

  • 11:51:57

    IRVINGMy youngest son is gay and I'm very proud of him for it and very proud of who he is. My knowledge of my youngest son being gay, however, was about six or seven years after this novel was fully formed. It would be a mistake which he and I both know. It would be a mistake to think that I wrote "In One Person" because I have a gay son. "In One Person" existed before I knew my youngest son was gay. But there's no question that in the writing of it I thought of him as my ideal reader.

  • 11:52:40

    REHMJohn Irving and the book is titled "In One Person." You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Miami, Fla. Good morning, Jan, go right ahead.

  • 11:52:56

    JANGood morning. I'm so thrilled to be talking to John Irving.

  • 11:53:00

    REHMGood.

  • 11:53:00

    JANYou are so loved. I wanna ask you about -- you were talking a little bit ago about ancestors in your books. And I'm guessing the librarian in "In One Person" is a descendant of the transgender person in "Garp." And I love that character and I love John Lithgow portraying that character in the movie. So can you tell me a little bit about that and how they're alike and how they're different?

  • 11:53:29

    IRVINGWell, they're very alike. Miss Frost and Roberta Muldoon are very alike in terms of being I think both of them positive characters, and characters who you feel considerable affection and sympathy for. In that way they very much resemble each other. But they're different, very different in tone of voice. "Garp" is a comic novel. "Garp" is a satiric novel. It is a frankly younger man's novel. Its anger is expressed in the extremes it goes to in making its points. And Roberta is such an extreme. She is making fun of the society, of the culture that she comes from, especially a culture that discriminates against her. She's a broad and comic rebuke of that culture.

  • 11:54:50

    IRVING"In One Person" is a much more realistic novel. And Miss Frost is I wouldn't say more subdued, but she is more realistically developed and she's a tragic character. She's not a comic character.

  • 11:55:09

    REHMIndeed.

  • 11:55:12

    IRVINGYou care about Roberta and you care about Miss Frost, but what happens about Miss Frost is deeply sad and there's nothing comic or satiric about it.

  • 11:55:24

    REHMIndeed. I want to ask you finally about your reaction to the vice president's comments over the weekend on "Meet the Press" saying that he is perfectly comfortable with marriage between same sex individuals.

  • 11:55:47

    IRVINGAs well he should be and good for him for saying so. I'm hopeful. I'm an Obama supporter. I'm hopeful that Joe Biden's comments and forthright he is about that subject will prod the president to stop procrastinating on the gay marriage issue himself. I've heard him use the word evolve about his own feelings toward gay marriage. I think it's time he continued the evolving. I wish he'd get to it. I'm an Obama supporter, but I wish he'd come out for gay marriages as bravely as Joe Biden has. Good for Joe.

  • 11:56:33

    REHMJohn Irving, his latest novel, his 13th is titled "In One Person." John Irving, thank you.

  • 11:56:46

    IRVINGThank you. It's nice to see you again.

  • 11:56:47

    REHMAlways good to see you. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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