Klehr has once again created a theatrical-styled world with unique characters. The author's use and choice of words are unlike anything else I've read. It's descriptive, yet dramatic and elevated. It reminds me so much of my early adult theater days.
The blurb truly describes this story to perfection - without giving anyway any delicious details. Stanley's current life status is in question, and he feels like he's failed. That is until he meets Asher in his dreams. We are never told exactly what type of beast Asher is, other than "A Midnight Man." Throughout the book my demon-possessed brain kept trying to figure out...okay, is this thing demonic, like an Incubus? Or is it angelic, and playing the role of guardian angel? I think Klehr did us all a service by keeping us guessing.
Although one of the tale's main concepts is cheating within a relationship, and I do know how many people do not like reading about this, the setup in the tale for this particular event was very realistic. Many couples in real life go through this. Some couples are open. It was an interesting avenue to see how the event was handled between Stanley and Francesco. Even more interesting when one of them is having an affair with a dream entity. Is that truly cheating?
The dream sequences were surreal - as they should have been - occasionally disjointed, again, kinda perfect, and allowed the reader to play around with picturing these story parts with a certain amount of fluidity...again, mimicking the dream state - after all, how many of us regularly have dreams where all the parts are cohesive and make sense? I don't mean to say that Klehr's writing is in any way confusing, so much as he's written bright spots into the novel where you know you're in a dream, and the atmosphere and environment are well reflective of the dreamscape.
I was also so pumped to have gay characters who were mature, and not playing "Daddy" roles. This was an exploration of an established couple's relationship decline. The men were easily identifiable as any members of the community I know around me. It was a brilliant change of pace from the usual young gays falling in love, or teen angst coming out arcs we so often see.
There's a big role here for self-actualization and empowerment. Two qualities that I think most of us struggle with our entire lives. Just when it would seem that we have our identities figured out, and become comfortable within our own skin, your life experience and age always seem to trip that up. Knowing who you are, at any point in life's journey will change. Because you change. I think, in the end, Klehr's story is about exactly this; discovering who we are, recognizing our pasts, discovering where our potential lies and learning what we need from ourselves and others to make us the most we can be - at different points in our lives.
This is an interesting story that led me down a contemplative path.
Kevin Klehr again deftly weaves his own brand of surrealism into the all too relatable ups and downs of a gay relationship. Despite its premise, The Midnight Man favours nuance over sensation, though it all comes served with Klehr's trademark theatricality.
He keeps the stakes high for all his characters throughout the book, including the mythic titular love interest, engaging the reader on several unexpected wavelengths. Paying homage to the great dream narratives from Shakespeare to David Lynch, Klehr has created his own richly inviting trip into a subconscious where our true desires and frustrations can no longer hide.
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.
We were a full three-quarters of the way through the book before it was revealed that Asher was hired for this role and that there is a whole bureaucratic world underpinning these dreams. In fact, Asher is still attending classes and has textbook lessons to learn about being a Midnight Man. To say nothing of the eleventh-hour development of how dangerous a game it was for a Midnight Man to not only fall in love with a mortal, but to attempt to build a life together with that mortal. As much fun as it was to read about dream land bureaucracy, it added thick layers of something—meaning or symbolism—pretty late in the game for me.
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.
It’s been a while since I read one of Kevin Klehr’s novels. I started on “The Midnight Man” with the feeling that it was all too normal, too “straight” a narrative. Then it got weird, and I felt comfortable again.
The other books of Klehr’s that I’ve read and enjoyed have all been spiritual, but in a non-religious way. The story in this book counts as paranormal, but it felt a good bit less fantastical. Why? Because this is all about dreams. We’ve all experienced the paranormal quality of dreams.
It is hard to categorize this as a romance, this story of the disintegration of a gay couple’s seven-year relationship Oddly enough, although I’m an older man approaching his 46th anniversary, it really cut close to the bone. One doesn’t live forty-six years with another man without thinking about nearly every issue that Klehr’s two protagonists have to face.
Stanley and Francesco are an Australian couple in their forties; Stanley is right on the edge of fifty, which is something of a critical detail. He is not only facing a daunting mid-life crisis—the undeniable loss of youth—but he is also facing the loss of his longtime partner, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Yeah, it’s about sex, but it’s not really about sex.
In his dreams, Stanley meets Asher, a twenty-one year old, who becomes his confidante and paramour. Once more, it is not just dreams; Asher is part of a spiritual world in which he is one of The Midnight Men, whose role it is to enter people’s dreams and guide their souls—themselves—to a better place.
What ends up happening for the reader is a surprisingly detailed study of the relationship between Stanley and Francesco. It is easy to take sides at first, but it becomes less clear cut as the author probes more deeply into both characters. As we see them for who they really are, we begin to understand how their path has gone astray.
I want to give props to the author for giving us Adelaide, Stanley’s mother. At first presented as slightly surreal, almost an archetype, she becomes more interesting and more vivid as the story progresses. She is rooted in Stanley’s past, while Asher is rooted in his present (if only in dreams). Both of them play crucial roles in the way the narrative plays out.
Last week my grown son (my husband and I adopted two children twenty-five years ago) asked me, out of the blue, “Why did Daddy stay with you all these years?” I had no idea what to tell him. This book gave me some ideas.