Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Timeless—or perhaps timely—Tales of my City

Michael Tolliver Lives
by Armisted Maupin

I won’t go as far as to claim that Armisted Maupin’s Tales of the City books are the reason I upended my life and moved to San Francisco eight years ago—but they were surely a factor. Maupin captures the spirit of San Francisco like no one else, and his books are truly dear to me. Several years ago, in a tremendous act of willpower, I tucked away Michael Tolliver Lives for a “rainy day.” That day, of course, has come, and it’s such a comfort to visit with these old friends.

Like myself, they are older. Michael “Mouse” Tolliver is in his mid-fifties and Anna Madrigal is eighty-five! In the pages of the book we get updates on all of our beloved former Barbary Lane denizens, but as the title suggests, this is really Michael’s show.

Like his creator, he is now married (legally) to a much younger man, and is living with HIV—an eventuality he’d never considered years ago when AIDS was a death sentence. As for further details of the plot, they’re essentially irrelevant. This book is all about character. And Maupin’s insight into these people is just as deep—and as deeply affectionate as it ever was.

Now, clearly I’m a hard-core fan, and reading this book gave me great joy at a time when I badly needed it. That said, this latest volume is not a favorite. Perhaps because Michael’s life so closely mirror’s Maupin’s, I felt like parts of this book smacked of self-justification. Also, and this isn’t exactly a complaint, but this book seemed a lot more gay than I remember the rest of the series being. Or rather, more graphically and explicitly gay. I don’t really care, but readers who aren’t fairly open-minded might not want to go there. I’m pretty open-minded, and I could have done with just a bit less detail.

Small complaints aside, I was thrilled to reconnect with these dear friends and discover I loved them as much as I ever had. Maupin is a magical writer with boundless heart. I will read absolutely anything he writes. Happily, I won’t have to wait quite so long for my next visit. Mary Ann in Autumn, a Tales of the City novel, will be published in November!

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