The Night Listener by Armistead MaupinOriginally reviewed for Uniquely Pleasurable.
First, a disclaimer. This review covers the original publication of the novel and not the movie-tie in version. The movie varies substantially (and is really rather dreadful) from the original novel and it is unknown if the tie-in version of the novel was rewritten to incorporate new information and/or details found in the movie.
The novel The Night Listener is Maupin’s fictional take on his interaction with Anthony Godby Johnson, a “young boy” who was presented as having been brutally abused as a child. Johnson wrote a book that was sent out in galley form to many celebrities, and like J.T. Leroy who would claim the same thing many years later (and subsequently be proven a massive hoax), the celebrities took to this boy, many becoming friends with him over the phone. You can read more about the cases by search out either Johnson or Leroy online.
I have to admit upfront that I am an unabashed fan of Maupin’s work. There is a simplicity to his prose that belies the emotional complexity of the characters he creates, and whether it be his series Tales of the City or his departures from that series like Maybe the Moon, it is rare for me to find fault in his work. There is also an almost Hitchcockian feel to the plots of his novels which, while never detracting from the almost whimsical tone of his stories, always creates a nice blend of genres. The Night Listener, however, is perhaps his greatest departure from this style: a dark and brooding look at loss and betrayal and the need for human contact. It can be a brutal read (a friend to whom I lent the book called it “one of the most depressing novels” she’d ever read). But what it also is is a novel which really explores the range that Maupin has as a storyteller, and makes him, in my mind, one of the best novelists out there, gay or straight.
Maupin is in thin disguise as Gabriel Noone, an author of radio stories who is at a turning point in his life when he makes contact with Pete Lomax, the stricken boy. Noone’s longtime lover–who never expected to survive the AIDS epidemic–has moved out, and while the romantic relationship has ended, the connection between Noone and his ex will be a lifelong one. Jess simply needs to find a life beyond waiting to die. But what it does for Noone is leave a huge hole in his life, an emotional and intellectual void that needs to be filled. So, when Noone connects by telephone with Pete and finds him to be a witty, well-spoken young man, a friendship begins to develop. Noone needs someone who adores him and Pete desperately needs a father figure.
Maupin brilliantly captures both Noone and Pete. The malaise Noone has found himself in is palpable, a man who suddenly finds himself feeling a no one (Noone) because he has lost the one person who has helped to define him for decades. Likewise, Maupin’s depiction of Pete is heartbreaking but utterly realistic. He is smart and funny, his humor as dark as his own past, and Maupin gets the pattern of speech of a teen boy exactly right. Though essentially a minor character, Noone’s ex Jess is also excellently drawn. Jess isn’t reduced to a cardboard cut-out. While was a saddened that he has decided to leave Noone, we completely understand his desire to get out there and see what life–a real life–holds for him. Pete’s adoptive mother–though a very minor character through the first half of the novel–is also flesh and blood. We feel the compassion that led her to adopt Peter. We understand her ferocious protectiveness of him. We even understand why she won’t let anyone meet him. And then, Maupin does something brilliant. He turns all that has come before on its head. Why hasn’t Donna let anyone meet him? Does Pete’s voice really sound all that similar to Donna’s? Surely, the editor of Pete’s book has checked out his story. Suddenly, we begin to suspect Pete. We begin to distrust Donna. Everything we have learned before we begin to question, and we feel deep down inside the conflict Noone feels.
What Maupin does so well in this book is make you care about this Pete (as, interestingly enough, had happened to Maupin and the other celebs Johnson had been in contact with), so that when doubt is cast upon his existence, you are as devastated as Noone. The result is a literary gut-punch. And Maupin expertly takes us from needing to believe Pete and Donna, to suspecting them. To wanting them to be real–for their own sakes as well as Noone’s–to needing them to be proven a hoax because the evidence of such a hoax is so remarkably overwhelming. It is a brilliant feat of writing…to make three characters (Noone, Pete and Donna) that you, as the reader, desperately want to believe. The result is a deeply psychological game of suspense that moves at a brisk pace, one that would make Hitchcock proud.
The Night Listener is not an easy read at all from an emotional standpoint. As a reader, a lot is demanded of you and you likely will feel worn out after reading it, but the ride is so worth it.
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The Night Listener
Sign in. Alex Borstein , RuPaul , and other stars at the Emmys answer our fans' burning questions. Watch now. Title: The Night Listener Set in a world with memory recording implants, Alan Hakman is a cutter, someone with the power of final edit over people's recorded histories. His latest assignment is one that puts him in danger.
Based on a novel by Armistead Maupin, which was based in turn on an episode in Mr.
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Noone is given a memoir written by teenager Pete Logand Rory Culkin , who chronicles the many years of sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his parents and their friends. Noone begins a telephone relationship with the boy and Donna. He and Pete become increasingly close and form a father-son relationship, much to the dismay of Jess, especially after he speaks to Donna and suspects she and the boy are the same person. Noone's personal secretary Anna Sandra Oh adds fuel to the fire by discussing her research into people who fabricate elaborate stories to get attention. Determined to prove the boy exists and his story is true, Noone decides to pay a surprise visit to Pete in his hometown in rural Wisconsin.