FICTION | Returning character to San Francisco brings return to form for Maupin in ‘Tales of the City’ novel
November 14, 2010
BY MISHA DAVENPORT email@example.com
As a longtime fan of the “Tales of the City” books, Armistead Maupin’s San Francisco saga, I prefer to believe that 2007’s Michael Tolliver Lives never happened.
The first book in the series, Tales of the City, was set in 1976 and opened with seemingly naive Cleveland native Mary Ann Singleton turning her back on Ohio to take an apartment at 28 Barbary Lane. As far as I am concerned, the series ended with 1989’s Sure of You. That’s when Mary Ann packed her bags and abandoned her husband, adopted daughter and friends for a job in New York.
Mary Ann in Autumn is a return to form, with Maupin once again returning to a third-person narrative (he shifted to first-person in Michael Tolliver Lives). The resulting book is a heart-warming and life-affirming tale that should please fans as well as those new to the series.
After a 20-year absence, Mary Ann returns to San Francisco. Now 57, she’s facing her autumn years with much uncertainty and returns to the playground of her youth to lick her wounds. Her once-promising television news career went bust and the once-independent Mary Ann spent the last decade or so as a housewife — until her Republican husband had an affair with her life coach, of course.
Despite being abandoned by Mary Ann 20 years ago when he began to get sick from AIDS, Michael “Mouse” Tolliver welcomes her back with open arms, even offering her shelter in the detached, one-bedroom cottage on his property. Tolliver’s much younger husband, Ben, is less than enthused.
Meanwhile, Anna Madrigal, the pot-growing, transgendered matriarch of 28 Barbary Lane, where Mary Ann and Mouse both once lived, has survived a stroke and is now a “transmother” to her pre-op, transgendered caregiver, Jake Greenleaf.
Rounding out the cast, Mary Ann’s estranged and bitter adopted daughter, Shawna, is in a committed relationship with a pier clown named Otto. After Shawna befriends a dying homeless woman named Leia, she sets the novel’s mystery into play as she attempts to discover who Leia was and thus lend some meaning to the deceased woman’s life.
As the mystery unfolds, the plot threads begin to connect in surprising ways, uniting strangers and long-lost friends and family. This has always been Maupin’s biggest point. Though we may feel isolated and alone while living in big cities like Chicago, New York or San Francisco, we cannot shuck off our inherent humanity and — at least in Maupin’s books — the world continually reminds us that we are all connected.