With fifty fast approaching, Stanley is starting to realize a few things about his seven-year relationship with Francesco. Instead of intoxicating evenings connecting emotionally and physically, they rarely have any time alone together. Opening up their relationship at Frank’s request has failed to rekindle that old yearning; rather, it’s made Stan hyper aware that the only time he and Frank are intimate is when another man is involved. Even Stanley’s mother asks, at their weekly Tuesday night mother/son dinners, when he is going to wise up and leave Frank. For Stanley, everything feels hopeless and mired by inaction. All he can think about is how his upcoming birthday represents nothing but a downward spiral into irrelevancy.
One night, however, Stan meets the most amazing man named Asher. Young and vivacious, Ash awakens a long-dormant vibrancy in Stanley—albeit through one of Stanley’s dreams. Maybe it’s just his subconscious, but it works. Each time Stanley meets the literal man of his dreams, he jettisons a few years off his age and recaptures the spirit of his younger self. Asher is there, encouraging him along the way. Attentive and sensitive to Stanley’s needs, aware of Francesco’s unscrupulous treatment of Stanley, Asher is convinced he’s falling for Stan and vice versa. But falling for a mortal and getting one to fall for him is a dangerous game for a Midnight Man. Asher must convince Stanley that he’s more than a figment of the imagination and worth leaving the waking world behind. More troubling, Asher has affected Stanley beyond the dream realm, making him more like the man Frank fell in love with. But will it be enough to make Stanley choose to resurrect a dead relationship?
The Midnight Man by Kevin Klehr is a marvelously imagined drama. It features an established, aging couple whose love has attenuated over the years; it explores, with the help of a quasi-paranormal dream lover, how that couple addresses the unsavory realization that they have truly fallen out of love. First, I want to mention how much I admire the mechanics of Klehr’s storytelling. Initially, I struggled to adapt to having multiple narrative voices, in part because the demarcations between Stan, Frank, and Ash’s voices did not feel very clear cut. More abstractly, however, each of the character’s voices fleshes out their own motives and frames how they perceive the actions of others. I thought this narrative style ultimately made the story delightfully messy—much like the muddled feelings all three characters have.
Although Stan feels like the main character, it would be too simple to say Stan is the “hero,” Frank is the “bad guy,” and Asher is the love interest. Stan waffles between two worlds and neither his current nor dream lover came across as a strong advocate for Stan’s affections. Frank feels bad because he’s too self-centered to break off a relationship he doesn’t invest in, but he arguably goes through the most growth. Asher seems like the savior out to offer Stan all the love that Frank can’t…but things in the dream land are not always what they appear. The shifting narratives really helped me view these characters as more than avatars for roles and more as the lost men looking and hoping for redemption that I think they represent.
In addition to the imaginative use of switching narrators, there’s also a very present element of what I suppose is the “paranormal.” That would be Asher as a so-called Midnight Man, someone who appears in a person’s dreams to help them resolve some issues. Midnight Men have a literal library of tricks and props and scenarios and cast members to help make dreams a reality for the mortal whose dreams they visit. At first, it was easy to believe that Asher and Stan can only meet when Stan is unconscious. Over time, however, we see more and more of the “dream land” in which Asher exists.
It was actually this not-strictly-dreamland world of Asher’s that forms my biggest criticism. For such a pivotal character in the book, it was hard to figure out how he fit in the role that was clearly not just a figment of Stan’s imagination. After all, Ash was given a narrative voice and his world was described well beyond the fantastic dreams he wove for Stan. Ultimately, it felt like Asher’s world kept evolving, but I wasn’t sure how this behind-the-dream-scenes world building was meant to fit into the broader story, largely because of how the story ends and none of these revelations really seemed to reveal anything.
The ending of the story was, for me, a great surprise. A bit of fun, a bit of a puzzle, and an odd sense of closure despite all the loose ends. Given the back and forth and the multiple perspectives, I really thought it was up in the air which lover Stan would choose. The close of the book covers some significant issues, including a hate crime perpetrated by a law enforcement officer, death of a character, and unresolved relationships. Maybe that sounds depressing, but as I read the final chapters, I thought these pieces fit together well. These events represent good culminations of the threads out of which Klehr wove the story. I found them satisfying, while also leaving things open enough to wonder what would come next.
Overall, The Midnight Man is a uniquely layered approach to storytelling. The multiple narrative perspectives developed/manipulated my sympathies in atypical ways. I enjoyed how my concept of the “bad lover” shifted throughout the narration. Asher and his dream world were a bit of a mixed bag, but still a great vehicle for showing off a literally younger version of Stan for Asher and Frank to fight over. For readers who enjoy stories that feature established couples, troubled couples, lovers-reunited, and dream-related plot devices; or readers who enjoy multiple perspectives in a narrative, I think you’ll enjoy this book.