Irving is a great American novelist. In his latest novel he revisits themes of transgender and bisexuality. He follows the narrator, Billy Abbott, through his life as a student in a boys school, Favorite River Academy, in the 50’s when he was 13, through the AIDS crisis in the 80’s to 2010 when he is 60.
Billy is in the town library of First Sister, Vt., hopelessly infatuated with the librarian, Miss Frost. He is clutching a copy of “Great Expectations.”“ ‘There are a lot of books by Charles Dickens,’ Miss Frost told me. ‘You should try a different one, William.’ . . .“Miss Frost’s second reference to me as William had given me an instant erection — though, at 15, I had a small penis. . . . (Suffice it to say, Miss Frost was in no danger of noticing that I had an erection.)” Miss Frost knows nothing of Billy’s sexual anguish as he tries to check out “Great Expectations” for the second time. Billy knows that only two things matter to him at 15 — to be a writer, and to sleep with Miss Frost — “not necessarily in that order.” Billy’s first sexual experience was with this transgendered librarian in the basement of the library. He loved her small breasts and preferred small breasts on his female partners. When Billy slept with Miss Frost for the first time, he believed she was a woman. When he returned for more, he knew she was a woman with a penis.