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Retro Reading: The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin


Let me be clear. I am not into politics, however, I think Armistead Maupin should be canceled. Here's why.

This was the first time that I've ever cried at the end of a book (not over the characters) and it was a very hard book to put down.

As this is an outer fringe story set outside of the Tales of the City universe, it is connected through the character of Anna (DeDe Day's now twenty-one-year daughter) who's writer Gabriel Noone's bookkeeper and the story is also set in San Francisco.

At the start of the novel, Gabriel is muddling through the breakup of his decade long relationship to Jess. It's only been about two weeks, but when the two broke up, Jess wanted some space and the possibility of the two getting back together seems like it will happen soon.

Due to the separation, Gabriel can't think straight and has a meltdown when he goes into the studio to record his radio show, Noone at Night. With a severe case of depression and writer's block, he says that he needs to clear his mind for a little while.

He receives an envelope from editor Ashe Findlay which contains a set of bound galleys for a book called The Blacking Factory written by thirteen-year-old Pete Lomax. It's a memoir detailing the long-term sexual abuse of the author by his parents, who were subsequently arrested for prostitution and how he was adopted by Donna Lomax, a psychiatrist.

Gabriel agrees to write a blurb for the book and tells Ashe that he would like to talk to the boy and tell him how incredible he thinks he is for coming forward and also revealing to the world that he's also a victim of AIDS.

Ashe agrees to pass along his number and a few days later, Gabriel receives a phone call from Pete. The two begin a relationship over the phone and they talk about everything under the sun, each seeking advice from the other.

By learning from Pete, Gabriel's depression seems to go away and one day he asks Jess to call him. The reason for this is that while Jess is HIV positive, he may be able to offer suggestions to the terminally ill boy.

One day, Jess tells Gabriel that he's been in contact with Pete, but he thinks there's something strange about him. He tells him that he doesn't think Pete exists and that Gabriel's being played by Donna. Gabriel becomes frustrated and when he talks to Pete, he's invited to Wisconsin to meet him.

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The day before he's set to go, Donna calls him and has to cancel since she tells Gabriel that Pete's taken a turn for the worse and is in the hospital.

Jess gives him the "I told you so" speech, and Anna thinks that Pete is a fabrication of Donna's imagination, or she's suffering from multiple personalities. He calls Ashe and Ashe tells him that he had met with Donna when she came to New York for a conference, but no one has met Pete in person.

Donna calls Gabriel and tells him that the publisher has decided not to publish the book since Donna won't allow anyone to the house for a "pre-publication" interview. Gabriel gets in touch with Ashe and he tells him that he'll go interview Pete, just once so that he doesn't have to be subjected to any stress.

Ashe tells him no and Gabriel decides that he's going to make an unannounced visit to Wisconsin, once he finds out that the phone has been disconnected.

When he gets to the Lomax hometown of Wysong, he goes to the address that he has, only to find out that it's a postal store. He tries to get information from the clerk, but is unsuccessful and when he's back at his hotel, he remembers what Pete had told him about the water tower at Christmas.

After looking out his window, he sees the water tower with the Christmas star shining and makes a hurried dash to find the house.

About halfway through the book, Pete asks Gabriel if he can call him "dad" since he feels that he's become a father to him. Gabriel tells him that he can and a sort of pseudo father/son relationship is formed between the two. Both are looking for the relationship that neither had with their fathers.

Early into the book, it's mentioned that Gabriel's characters on Noone at Night (Jamie and Will) met while on a tour to Alcatraz. This threw me for a loop and I had to go back to Significant Others (the fifth book in the Tales of the City series) because Michael and Thack (real name William) met the same way, so I'm not sure if this was another connection to the series (but Gabriel tells Pete that he and Jess did do something similar and he fabricated it a little). It's still bothering me!

Gabriel also mentions that he lived in a small rooftop house (28 Barbary Lane?) but doesn't mention his neighbors so I don't know if this could also be a possible connection to the series.

Regardless, this is one of those books that before you realize it, it's four in the morning, even if you keep telling yourself, "just one more chapter."

You'll be hooked a few pages in and as far as the ending goes, you'll have to come up with your own conclusion as to if this is a hoax or not, but it was inspired by a true event in Maupin's life, so.......

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