Armistead Maupin’s “Tales Of The City” novels seem to have been around forever. The first appeared in 1978 following its existence since 1974 as a newspaper serial, in true Dickensian style, in two San Franciscan newspapers. Forty years on I am reading the 8th in the series of what now consists of nine novels. I have normally read them much closer to their publication date. I actually think it was the fairly pedestrian title that slowed me down picking this one up, together with the obvious main focus, Mary Ann, being one of my least favourite of the characters. But I shouldn’t have waited so long.
I have always enjoyed the “City” novels but the book of Maupin’s that I really loved was the stand-alone “Maybe The Moon” (1993) which was my favourite read back in 1994. However, when I re-read this a few years later I wasn’t as impressed, suggesting that Maupin may fall into the category of writers where the response is more immediate than lasting. This could be so, as despite a long association with these characters I find that I only remember a couple of them between novels but the author is always good with his prompts reminding us of the connections, obviously aware himself of the long gaps in its publishing sequence.
There was an excellent TV adaptation in 1993 of the early novels shown over here on Channel 4 which starred Marcus D’Amico (whatever happened to him?) as the endearing “Mouse” and a never-been-better Olympia Dukakis as Anna Madrigal. This is real character-led fiction and once settled into the book and reminded who is who it feels like a reunion of old friends to which the reader is invited and really the actual plot does not matter a great deal. Detractors of this series say it is trivial with weak plotlines and too politically correct for its own good and thus completely miss out on its charm, its quirkiness in the plot department and its importance in the canon of modern American literature. Maupin is far from trivial, he was one of the first authors to deal with AIDS and there’s been other big issues- unexplained deaths, paedophilia and betrayals a-plenty but all handled so adeptly that some could write if off as too light.
Here with the main characters aging we get cancer as a theme and ends that have been left untied for decades are tightened up. Mary Ann does take a central role, and she has always been one of the characters I’ve not always been fond of, but the rest of this expanding cast are present and this is another highly enjoyable read.
In 2014 Armistead Maupin published what he has said will be the last in the series, “The Days Of Anna Madrigal”. I can’t help but think that this will be a bit of a tear-jerker so I’m having to build myself up to it and I’m not in any rush to bring a series which seems to have always been around in my adult reading life to an end.
Mary Ann in Autumn was published by Black Swan in 2010.
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