Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Review - Armistead Maupin's The Night Listener

The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin
Published by: Harper Periennial
Publication Date: 2000
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
Challenge: Thriller and Suspense
Rating: ★★
To Buy
Gabriel Noone is a successful storyteller on the radio with his serialized show, Noone At Night. But Gabriel hasn't felt much like writing anything really since his lover left him to embrace the leather clad lifestyle and the new found freedom and hope that getting his AIDS cocktail right has given him. So Gabriel wallows as his show goes into reruns. Then one day he reads the manuscript of a young boy's autobiography, The Blacking Factory by Pete Lomax. The young teen, only 13, is an HIV Positive survivor of rape, incest and other horrors that even Pete can't go into detail on. But one thing that keeps this harrowing survivor upbeat is Noone At Night. Shortly Gabriel contacts the publisher wishing to talk to this remarkable young man. Soon they develop a friendship, like the father and son relationship that Gabriel never had with his father who was never able to embrace his "dick smoking" ways. But soon Gabriel starts to notice odd things. Pete is never heard at the same time as his mother Donna who sounds eerily like him though they aren't related by blood, and no one has ever met Pete. Is Donna pretending to be Pete? Does Pete even exist. Does it even matter to Gabriel? But soon he decides that he must learn for himself and sets forth to the wintry plains of Wisconsin to confront Donna and Pete. What he will find there might prove everything or solve nothing.

So, for those of you unfamiliar with roman à clef novels, they are novels in which actual people and places are disguised as fictional characters. Truth as fiction, gotta love the concept, but not necessarily the outcome. The Night Listener is such a novel. The problem with this is, aren't all Maupin's writing pretty much roman à clef? The Tales of the City books were serialized, much as Gabriel Noone's radio show, so that they could ebb and flow with what was going on in the popular media and the celebrities of the day. Basically current events were the fodder that drove these books. As well as Maupin's own life. I don't think I ever realized how much of his life was put into these books. Michael "Mouse" Tolliver has always been Maupin's book surrogate. The letter than Mouse used to come out to his parents is how Maupin did the same. Therefore after reading Michael Tolliver Lives, this book felt suspiciously like a retread with a little mystery thrown in... of course, that being said, The Night Listener was first, so Michael Tolliver Lives is the retread. It quite literally felt like at times I was reading the same book, and oddly enough I gave them the same rating. This supposedly vertiginous world that Maupin has culled from his own life and his own experiences with a young boy named Tony, was at times captivating and at times dull as dirt, and not always because of the similarity in plot, but just in the lulls created by lack of suspense. The characters are unlikable, which doesn't bode well for Maupin's self esteem, and the plot is left dangling. They wallow, they bitch, they moan, they form unhealthy relationships and at the end of the day what are we left with? An unreliable narrator in what one only assumes was a desperate "turn of the screw" to regain the ground Maupin had lost and the readers he had bored. My advice is pick up the Tales of the City and avoid this one all together, if you read Michael Tolliver Lives, it's like you've read this book already!


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