cover image The Night Listener

The Night Listener

Armistead Maupin. HarperCollins Publishers, $26 (344pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017143-8

The lines between reality and illusion are intriguingly blurred in this novel from the author of the Tales of the City series. Maupin also takes on various questions about how art imitates life, since there are many similarities here between author and protagonist. The deceptively simple story line concerns Gabriel Noone, a San Francisco radio personality whose ""grabby little armchair yarns"" have developed a cult following; indeed, the books based on these weekly NPR broadcasts ""have never stopped selling."" But Gabriel is experiencing severe writer's block as he endures an emotional crisis triggered by the decision of Jess, his longtime male companion, to separate: ""I lost a vital engine I never even knew I had."" When a manuscript sent to Gabriel for an endorsement turns out to be a harrowing memoir of sexual abuse written by a 13-year-old, he is moved to contact the precocious youngster. It seems that Gabriel has been an on-the-air lifeline for Peter Lomax, who has been adopted by a female doctor with some pressing problems of her own. This vulnerable threesome embark on a pas de trois that envelops the reader in an increasingly absorbing puzzle. Providing a moving counterpoint to Gabriel's growing attachment to--even dependence on--Pete is his inability to cope with his estrangement from Jess. As in his earlier works, reading Maupin's prose is like meeting up with a beloved old friend; it's an easy, uncomplicated encounter filled with warmth, wisdom and familiar touches of humor. But there's pathos here as well, and sharp-edged drama with a few hairpin turns. As Gabriel cautions, ""I'm a fabulist by trade, so be forewarned: I've spent years looting my life for fiction."" And what splendid booty Gabriel--and Maupin--have compiled for readers' enjoyment. 100,000 first printing; 16-city author tour. (Oct.)