Gabriel Noone, a late-night radio personality ("Noone at Night" on PBS) who reads his semi-autobiographical stories to millions of Americans, has just separated from his lover Jess when a publisher sends him the proofs of a memoir written by a 13-year-old boy with AIDS. Peter, the young author, has suffered heinous sexual abuse from his parents and hoards of strangers; he lives with his adoptive mother Donna, who was his therapist. Gabriel, shaken by the memoir, calls Peter, a conversation (all via phone, almost all at night) that begins a relationship that quickly becomes an intense, father-son-like relationship that grows deeper as it grows more unsettling as Jess and others begin to cast suspicion on the actual existence of Peter.


The threads holding The Night Listener together include questions of truth and illusion; the complexities of romantic love (with doses of eroticism thrown in here and there); the alternately strong and tenuous bonds between father and son, which include bonds between Gabriel and his own father and his newly fabricated "son" Peter; an unsettling awareness of aging at mid-life. Half-way through the book, The Night Listener begins to read like a mystery--does Peter really exist? Did his adoptive mother Donna write the memoir? Does she assume Peter's identity during the long phone conversations? Is this a hoax or does Donna have a multiple personality disorder?

In a back-and-forth between the building mystery and other present-day concerns, Gabriel ruminates on his breakup from Jess and Jess's newfound relationships and lifestyle (Jess is HIV positive but is doing extraordinarily well on a new cocktail), his ongoing difficulties with his obnoxious father, and a troubling bout of writer's block--in other words, mid-life angst on both personal and professional fronts. The conversations between Gabriel and Peter are some of the best writing in the book, which includes Peter's (or is it Donna's impersonation?) painful memories of sexual abuse, Gabriel's confessional tone with this boy-stranger, Peter's precocious teasing about Gabriel's sexuality, and strange omissions leading to further doubt about Peter's existence once the idea had been planted. Maupin clearly did not intend the book to be a close examination of living with AIDS, but rather a story of loss, spiced as a page-turning mystery.



Place Published

New York



Page Count