A touching but rather facile meditation on the way artists manipulate facts in their quest for truth, by the author of Maybe the Moon (1992) and the popular Tales of the City series.
Gabriel Noone’s NPR program, Noone at Night, later turned into a bestselling series of books, has made Gabriel a poster boy for the well-adjusted gay lifestyle—except that, as the story opens, his long-time lover, Jess, has moved out, “to focus on himself for once.” At this fragile moment, Gabriel receives the galleys of a memoir by Pete, a 13-year-old boy dying of AIDS as a result of protracted sexual abuse at the hands of his parents and their customers. Moved by the book’s grit and humor, Gabriel contacts Pete, who now lives with Donna Lomax, the doctor who rescued and adopted him. The two bond over the telephone, and this new friendship helps Gabriel cope with the pain of Jess’s departure and the ongoing angst of his unresolved relationship with his crotchety father, an old-line southern gentleman who has never been comfortable with Gabriel’s sexual orientation—or with emotions of any kind. But then Jess points out that neither Gabriel nor anyone else has ever seen Pete, and that the boy’s voice bears striking resemblance to Donna’s. Is Jess just jealous, or is he performing his usual task of reasserting reality for Gabriel, “a fabulist by trade” who for years, in completely good faith, embellished a friend’s actual wedding in India with a completely fictitious jeweled elephant. Gabriel’s doubts about Pete grow, but he’s unwilling to let go of his beloved phone buddy, who is clearly telling the truth about someone’s agonized past. The deathbed reconciliation between Gabriel and his father is trite, but the final phone call from Pete (by now supposedly dead) will give you the creeps and move you to tears almost simultaneously.
The postmodern, what-is-real? theme highlights Maupin’s intellectual shortcomings rather than his emotional strengths, but strong storytelling, punchy humor, and a warmhearted narrator carry the day.