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10th Grade202432 Stories4th of July99 DaysA Change in AltitudeA Demon in My ViewA Dream of WolvesA Falling KnifeA Finely Tuned Apathy MachineA Heart of StoneA Life Lived RidiculouslyA Multitude of SinsA Parting GiftA Question of BloodA Quiet PlaceA Red Heart of MemoriesA River SutraA Short History of Tractors in UkrainianA Slight Trick of the MindA Stir of BonesA Thousand Miles from NowhereA Voyage Long and StrangeA Wedding in December About a BoyAbraham LincolnAcross the River and Into the TreesActs of GodActs of InfidelityAfrican PsychoAfter DarkAfter YouAfter You'd GoneAfterwardsAgenda for MurderAliens in the Prime of Their LivesAll Alone in the UniverseAll Families Are PsychoticAll in the MindAll the Way HomeAltered LandAlternatives to SexAmanda's WeddingAmelia RulesAmericaAmerica AmericaAmnesiaAmong the DepartedAn Object of BeautyAngelsAngry Youth Comix #2AnimosityAnne SextonAre You Experienced?Aristotle and Poetic JusticeAristotle DetectiveArlington ParkArtemis FowlAs Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank MeAsking For MurderAsymmetryAtonementAway Laughing on a Fast CamelBabylon and Other StoriesBad BoyBad SeedBag Of BonesBalancing ActsBarbara the Slut and Other PeopleBeach RoadBeat the ReaperBeautiful GirlsBed of RosesBefore I Go to SleepBefore the FrostBeg the QuestionBeginner's GreekBellyBeneath the SkinBenedictionBest New American VoicesBig BrotherBilly and GirlBiteBlack & WhiteBlack HelicoptersBlack Market TruthBlameBlanketsBleed for MeBlind SightBlonde FaithBlood, Salt, WaterBlueprints for Building Better GirlsBody SurfingBoneMan's DaughtersBoneyardBoneyardBoomsdayBorder CrossingBoth Ways Is the Only Way I Want ItBoysBracketBrain TrustBrava, ValentineBreaking Out of BedlamBreathing UnderwaterBrick LaneBridge of SighsBridget JonesBridget Jones's DiaryBrief Interviews with Hideous MenBring Them HomeBruisesBrŁselBullyBurn, Bitchy, BurnButterflyBy BloodBy The Sea ShoreCalled to KillCanadaCanvasCaricatureCase HistoriesCellCemetery DanceChange of HeartChangesChasing the DimeChild 44Cinema PanopticumCinnamon KissCirceCircle NineCity of the LostClay's WayClose toYouClose Your EyesCloud 9 AffairCoincidenceCold CaseCold HitCold in HandCollected StoriesCome Up and See Me SometimeComfort and JoyCompulsionConfessions of a ShopaholicConfessions of an Ex-GirlfriendConsider LoveCouch FictionCrispinCross CountryCruddyCrumpleCutCypherDaddy's GirlsDakotaDamageDancing After HoursDanger in High PlacesDanger! 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Gabriel Noone: he has a regular show on National Public Radio, telling
stories about himself, but he has been unable to write for months; he lives in
San Francisco but his relationship with his long-term lover, Jess, who is HIV
positive but is doing well on medication, is moving out; Gabriel's father, with
whom he has had an uneasy relationship, is in declining health; now Gabriel
gets a book manuscript from a publisher asking for a blurb, and the book
affects him deeply.
The Night Listener is entertaining, clever, and thoughtful. It's
impossible to discuss the meaning of the book without going into important
details, so don't read on if you don't want to have the thrill of finding out
The book Gabriel received is apparently an autobiography, written by Pete
Lomax, a thirteen-year-old boy who suffered sexual abuse from his parents and a
circle of pedophiles. Pete escaped from his parents and testified against them
in court, but he contracted AIDS and his health is shaky. He is now living with
Donna Lomax, who was Pete's psychotherapist, and who adopted Pete. They live in
Wisconsin. Gabriel starts to talk with Pete on the telephone, and finds himself
relying on Pete emotionally. Jess also talks with Pete and Donna, and suggests
to Gabriel that he has been fooled, because Donna is the same person as Pete.
The puzzle for Gabriel is in working out whether Pete really does exist. The
puzzle for the reader is to work out what Maupin is up to in this novel. There
are clear connections between Noone and Maupin in their personal histories, and
it's tempting to speculate whether Maupin had experiences similar to the one he
gives to Noone in this book, especially in his account of how his family
reacted to his homosexuality as well as the more obvious sad tale of a young
As the book reaches its end, Gabriel has gone in search of Pete, but has not
been able to actually meet him face to face, and indeed, Donna has told him
that Pete died. Gabriel now starts to write an account of the mystery of Pete
Lomax, writing the book we are reading. Gabriel's father's health suddenly takes
a turn for the worse, and soon after Gabriel gets to see him again, the old man
dies, and Gabriel has a hard time coming to terms with this. Soon after,
Gabriel gets a call from Pete, but of course he cannot be sure it really is the
boy and not Donna. Finally, in an afterword, Gabriel makes it clear that his
father has not in fact died. So maybe the story we have just read is not
intended to be real, but is "really" just loosely based on some
experiences of Noone's.
In its playing with truth and fiction, The
Night Listener reminds me of Lauren Slater's "fictional" memoir, Lying.
Slater also deliberately plays with the truth, leaving the reader unsure how
much to believe. The difference is that Slater's book is classified as a memoir
(and so is meant to be basically truthful) while Maupin's book is classified as
fiction (and so is not meant to directly describe real people). Ultimately, I'm
not sure that this playing achieves much. In some cases, convoluted and
apparently self-contradictory plots, such as David Lynch's recent film Mullholland
Drive, defy a unified narrative interpretation, and one is led to the
conclusion that the writer is protesting the constraints of logic and
conventional narrative structure. In Lying, Slater seems more concerned
with the difficulties of self-revelation and the possibility of ever getting to
the truth when telling one's own story. Maupin's manipulation of readers'
expectations feels less serious; it's a way to keep his readers guessing and to
stop them from feeling that they know him - it creates some psychological
distance between him and his readers, although there's a flirtatiousness there
too, since maybe it leaves the possibility in this book that he revealed
something very personal about himself, and that he has drawn us closer to him
than we know.
© 2001 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review.
His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry.
He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can
play a greater role in public life. He is available to give talks
on many philosophical or controversial issues in mental health.