The Night Listener
Reviewed by Martin Wilson, Fri., Oct. 6, 2000
The Night Listenerby Armistead Maupin
HarperCollins, 352 pp., $26
Armistead Maupin's novels have always gone down smooth, easy, and fast. His latest, only the second novel he has written that is not a part of the beloved Tales of the City saga, is no exception. The book's narrator is Gabriel Noone, a successful, middle-aged gay author, best known for his radio broadcasts and books about the event-filled lives of a group of gay and straight friends living in San Francisco, stories that have cultivated avid fans around the world. Sound familiar?
One such fan lies at the center of this new book: 13-year-old Pete Lomax. Pete's story is nearly unbelievable: He was raised by two parents -- "monsters" is more appropriate -- who turned him into their personal kiddie porn star beginning when he was the ripe old age of four, subjecting him to years of unspeakable sexual abuse. Finally, he escaped and turned them in. As if that weren't enough, he found out he had been infected with the AIDS virus. Emotionally and physically scarred, and very sick, Pete is eventually adopted by a kind psychologist named Donna, with whom he settles down in Wisconsin to try to live out some semblance of a normal life.
When Pete's editor sends Noone a copy of Pete's book about his horrific life (yes, after all that, the kid can write about it), Noone is blown away by Pete's story and his ability to tell it after so much abuse. Before you know it, the two strike up a somewhat implausible friendship over the telephone -- Noone acting as father figure and mentor, Pete as an odd source of comfort and validation. This unlikely relationship seems as if it's headed for schmaltzville, and true, Maupin never has been one for resisting a little schmaltz. But before this all gets too treacly, Maupin inserts a substantial twist into the story, one that alters both the relationship and the course in which the novel seemed to be headed. It's almost preposterous, but it wouldn't be a Maupin novel without melodramatic flourishes.
Unfortunately, the novel also deals with Noone's recent breakup with his "husband." In honest but sappy monologues, Noone obsesses and moons over his ex-lover, Jess, sounding like a whiny wet blanket. That Maupin also recently ended his relationship with his lover is no coincidence, and these sections, though candid and heartfelt, just distract from the central story line. It's hard to criticize Maupin for adding other layers to his story, but these scenes, except for some tender moments concerning Noone's father, read more like cloying diary entries and only make the reader more eager to get back to Pete. The fact is, readers will be drawn to the novel for Maupin's splendid storytelling skills and his ability to place real people in seemingly ridiculous, exciting situations, and in that they won't be disappointed.
Armistead Maupin will be at the Paramount Theatre on Wednesday, October 11, at 8pm. Call 469-SHOW for ticket information. That same day, Maupin will be on John Aielli's Eklektikos (KUT 90.5FM) at 1pm.