I picked up Armistead Maupin’s The Night Listener at a book sale because the title seemed vaguely familiar. After reading the back, I remembered seeing trailers for a movie with the same name starring Robin Williams in the title role. When I started reading it, I thought maybe I was mistaken–the trailers I remembered seemed to be advertising a dark, creepy thriller. The book starts out nothing like that, but it gets there!
NPR star Gabriel Noone has recently gone through a rough breakup with his much younger partner, Jess, who was diagnosed with AIDS a decade before. After Jess finds out that his virus can be managed indefinitely, he leaves Gabriel in order to find himself in a new scene. Gabriel stops writing, leaves his radio show and falls into a depression.
Then he reads an autobiography submitted to him by a publisher about a young man who contracted AIDS after years of sexual abuse at the hands of his parents. It turns out the boy is a big fan of Gabriel’s, and they strike up a friendship on the phone. Gabriel starts thinking of him kind of like a son, ever though he’s never met the boy or his foster mother. At first, I thought the main source of tension in the novel was going to be this boy’s illness and possible death. I was very, very wrong. I’m going to stop here before I spoil anything.
It’s a creepy story and a sad story. It’s also a very well-written story, and one I could not put down. Gabriel was a fantastic main character–very human and vulnerable. Between his breakup and his family issues, I really felt I understood what caused him to make his decisions in the novel. The Night Listener is also a wonderful tale about truths vs lies, and how memories can be affected by the desire for a good story–something Gabriel Noone knows quite well.
P.S. Has anyone read anything else by Armistead Maupin? I enjoyed this immensely and would love recommendations for his other books (there seem to be quite a few).