Monday, May 22, 2006

The Night Listener, by Armistead Maupin

(hb; 2000)

From the back cover:

“... Gabriel Noone, a writer whose late-night radio stories have brought him into the homes of millions. Noone is in the midst of a painful separation from his longtime lover when a publisher sends him proofs of a remarkable book: the memoir of an ailing thirteen-year-old boy who suffered horrific abuse at the hands of his parents.

“Now living with his adoptive mother, Pete Lomax is not only a brave and gifted diarist but also a devoted listener to Noone’s show. When Noone phones the boy to offer encouragement, it soon becomes clear that Pete sees in this heartsick middle-aged storyteller the loving father he has always wanted. Thus begins an extraordinary friendship that only grows deeper as the boy’s health deteriorates, freeing Noone to unlock his innermost feelings.

“Then, out of the blue, troubling questions arise, exploding Noone’s comfortable assumptions and causing his ordered existence to spin wildly out of control. As he walks a vertiginous line between truth and illusion, he is finally forced to confront all his relationships – familial, romantic, and erotic.”

Review:

Emotionally complex, incisive work from the author of the Tales of the City series. (Side-note: one of the characters in The Night Listener is Anna, Noone’s twenty-something Asian assistant. Anna is the adopted daughter of DeDe Halcyon-Day and D’or Wilson. DeDe and D’or were major characters in early Tales books.)

In The Night Listener, Maupin’s writing spans all moods: amusing, touching, laugh-out-loud funny, angry, sexual, melancholy – mostly melancholy, though, as Noone is mourning what seems to be the demise of a ten-year relationship with Jess, whose restless ways have driven him to move out. Whether or not that move is permanent, Noone and Jess don’t know. All they know is that they’re hurting (Jess shows this through his actions; we never “get inside” his head.)

As if Noone doesn’t have enough bulls**t to deal with, new issues are becoming apparent with his father, an outspoken man who’s more comfortable with jokes and talking about the Navy and geography than he is with emotional truths – even when they’re staring him right in the face.

Noone’s most prominent relationship is with Pete, who may or may not be a real person. About halfway through, The Night Listener becomes a thriller/mystery. Who is Pete Lomax, if he’s real? Is he really a split personality of Donna, his adoptive mother? Or is it the other way around? And if either situation is true, how dangerous are they?

Despite the slight genre shift midway through, Maupin maintains the warm feel of the novel's first half. The ending might disappoint anyone looking for a an action-oriented finish, but for those readers who appreciate a graceful, emotionally solid ending, this is stunning.

The Night Listener is scheduled for an August 4, 2006 stateside release.

Robin Williams plays Noone. Sandra Oh plays Anna. Rory Culkin plays Pete. Toni Collette plays Donna. Joe Morton plays Ashe. Bobby Cannavale plays Jess.

Patrick Stettner directed, from a script by co-authored by himself, Armistead Maupin and Terry Anderson.

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