I know how it sounds when I call him my son. There’s something a little precious about it, a little too wishful to be taken seriously. I’ve noticed the looks on people’s faces, those dim, indulgent smiles that vanish in a heartbeat. It’s easy enough to see how they’ve pegged me: an unfulfilled man on the shady side of fifty, making a last grasp at fatherhood with somebody else’s child.
That’s not the way it is. Frankly, I’ve never wanted a kid. Never once believed that nature’s whim had robbed me of my manly destiny. Pete and I were an accident, pure and simple, a collision of kindred spirits that had nothing to do with parental urges, latent or otherwise. That much I can tell you for sure.
Son isn’t the right word, of course.
Just the only one big enough to describe what happened.
So begins Armistead Maupin’s novel,The Night Listener. The protagonist is Gabriel Noone, a late-night radio personality who tells stories to listeners near and far. Garbriel lives in San Francisco, but his radio program is syndicated, and so is heard all over the country, including by a thirteen-year-old boy, Pete, who has been tortured by his parents and survived to tell the tale. And tell it he does, in a book, which is in the process of being published. Pete is a big fan of Gabriel’s radio program, and asks him if he’ll write a blurb for the back of the book, to help in its publication. They strike up a long distance friendship, entirely over the phone, which becomes more and more important to Gabriel as his own life starts to fall apart.
The only other work I’ve read of Maupin’s is his Tales of the City series, books my father gave me not long after I first moved to San Francisco, egged on partially because my roommate was a gay man, partially because I was planning on volunteering at the suicide hot line (never did, since between my full time school and full time job, I didn’t have time to spare), and partially because they are a well told serial of stories told about life in San Francisco. I liked those books a lot, though I wish Mary Ann hadn’t changed so much, personality wise, from the beginning of the series to the end.
The Night Listener was gripping, an easy read, a real page turner. I wanted Gabriel to find happiness, wanted Pete to be successful and find peace from his horrific childhood. It was a good read, though I doubt it is a book I would read over and over again. Looking around online, I discovered it was made into a film several years ago, starring Robin Williams and Toni Collette. Anyone seen it?