Armistead Maupin’s ground-breaking “Tales Of The City” is the book series I can’t bear to finish. I’ve read most of them more than once but the final volume “The Last Days Of Anna Madrigal” remains unopened on my shelves . Taken as a series its significance is phenomenal. Written by an out gay man from the mid 70’s onwards with a diverse cast of characters it was devised initially for daily serialisation in a San Franciscan newspaper. The type of characters Maupin created had never appeared in such a mainstream work before. The first TV adaptation enhanced his reputation and was a thing of absolute joy and cemented his position as a LGBT+ icon.
Probably my favourite work of his is outside the “City” collection, his 1993 stand-alone “Maybe The Moon” was my favourite read of 1994. It feels like Armistead Maupin has been with me for my whole adult life and I think that may be the reason why the last “Tales Of The City” novel remains unread.
Not everything has worked. The 2019 Netflix reboot chose to bring his characters to the modern day alongside the next generation. I uncharacteristically gave up on this after a couple of episodes as I could feel it tainting my memories of the original. And it was with this experience quite fresh in my mind that I began this memoir. Published in 2017 it’s been a bit of an under the radar book. I don’t recall that much heralding of it on publication so I imagine it may not have been as commercially successful as the publishers would have liked.
For me, it is very much a book of two halves. Maupin talks of a logical family which is what many of us need to find to thrive away from our biological family. He grew up in conservative North Carolina with a racist, homophobic father and that upbringing makes tough reading. I don’t think Maupin helps us out much here as stylistically I found it a bit of a slog. There’s lots of references which would resonate for those in the American South of those days but it all felt rather alien to this European reader. I felt that when he was writing about his biological family he kept us at arm’s length and I didn’t really enjoy that distance.
It is when he moves to San Francisco that he discovers himself and the writing here took off for me as it did in his professional career. I especially enjoyed his perspectives on others he met up with- Rock Hudson, Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachardy and Harvey Milk. I was drawn deeply into this book then. His relationship with his parents develops a new dimension when they visit San Francisco when his mother is fading from breast cancer and they meet with his friends at the time of the assassination of Harvey Milk in what becomes a beautifully written poignant account and a point where the logical and the biological blend temporarily.
Armistead Maupin is a truly inspirational individual and as it progresses his memoir does become inspirational. I wondered when starting it whether this might be the book I would always remember him for, as I am partial to memoirs, but it isn’t but it might encourage me to finish that almost complete series I started reading over 40 years ago.
Logical Family was published by Doubleday in 2017.