Monday, November 20, 1989

Maupin Will Move You To Tears

USA TODAY (Arlington, VA)
November 20, 1989
Author: RAY MUNGO(c) Gannett News Service

Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" first appeared in serial form in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976, and were an immediate sensation. Maupin's fictional characters were quintessential San Franciscans - gay, bisexual, straight, hip, yuppie, smart, stoned. Their lives reflected the social trends of the city by the Bay.

His readers embraced the zany denizens of 28 Barbary Lane, led by the marijuana-growing landlady, Mrs. Madrigal, as real friends and neighbors. When a character took ill or was in danger, the Chronicle switchboard lit up with concerned callers.

Five earlier books have followed the adventures of Maupin's diverse flock. This sixth novel, "Sure of You," has been announced as the final installment in the series, and is the first that has never appeared in newspaper form. Just as San Francisco has changed from 1976 to today, from the era of unbridled sensuality to the age of AIDS, Maupin's "Tales" have evolved from whimsy and dada to death and AZT.

As a result, "Sure of You" is a more serious book than the earlier ones. It's a quietly understated small masterpiece of modern consciousness, dialogue and concern. It doesn't have as many laughs, and it may even move you to tears.

Mary Ann Singleton has become the most popular TV talk show host in San Francisco as the story continues; she is married to Brian Hawkins, co-owner of the Plant Parenthood nursery, and their 5-year-old daughter Shawna is precocious and appealing. But when old flame Burke Andrew, now a New York television producer, re-enters her life and offers her a syndicated national show, she has to decide between family and career.

Mary Ann confides, as ever, in her gay friend Michael Tolliver, who's also her husband's business partner. Michael is HIV-positive and carries a beeper that tells him when to take his pills. He counts his T-cells while waiting for the first symptoms of the dread disease. "Most people thought you got this thing and died. In truth, you got this thing and waited," Michael says. He lives with gay activist Thack Sweeny, and they practice safe sex.

Russell Rand and his wife, Chloe, are a public model of wedded bliss, but the groom, a top fashion designer, is in the closet. Dear old Mrs. Madrigal winds up on the island of Lesbos in Greece, courted by a handsome widower. Her daughter Mona Ramsey visits, finds love in the birthplace of Sappho and the person of Susan Futterman of Oakland. The chapters set in Greece are full of radiant beauty and cheer and the humor of American reaction to Greek culture.

But the return to San Francisco brings inevitable immersion in the plague. Michael wonders if a new zit could be Kaposi's sarcoma. Mary Ann ponders the value of success at the price of divorce. Even Shawna has grown up fast.

The devil-may-care, wacky spirit and plot development of "Tales of the City" is greatly subdued in "Sure of You." Maupin has given us instead a slice of life as it really is in San Francisco today. While this may be the last of the "Tales of the City," it's surely not the last we can expect to hear from Maupin, an impressive talent.

(Ray Mungo, the author of "Famous Long Ago," is at work on a sequel, "How Many Roads." He wrote this review for USA TODAY.)Copyright 1989, 2009 Gannett Co., Inc. All rights reserved.
Record Number: 118876

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