on December 15, 1999
First things first when it comes to reading Maupin's Tales of the City series -- learn to read in segments. This first book flashes from place to place and character to character swiftly so that the reader can get an overall picture of the situation. Quite honestly, it reads much like if it were a television series (which it was on PBS and Showtime...two miniseries, so far). Thus, if you expect it to be full of long chapters and focusing on a conversation or situation for a long while, you're going to be disappointed (much as one of the more recent reviewers of this book was, I note). Maupin's tale of a newcomer to San Francisco, the naive and reserved Mary Ann Singleton, and her misadventures with the residents of Barbary Lane (Mrs. Madrigal, the gay and proud Michael, the liberated Mona, etc.) is the stuff of Dickens' serials, brought to the 1970s in a flash of humor, adventure and out-and-out 1970s wackiness. I have read and re-read and re-re-read the entire series over and over again and have never failed to be entertained by the characters or the situations they find themselves in. Truly one of the most brilliant series out there. Give it a chance -- you won't regret it!
on November 6, 1998
I first read "Tales of the City" in its first printing in the late 1970's and waited with baited breath for the next edition to be printed. Each time I picked up a new book, it was like visiting with old friends. All of Armistead Maupin's characters are so real that I shall never again visit San Francisco without thinking about Mrs. Madrigal, Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, Mary Ann Singleton or Mona. I especially liked the way in which Armistead Maupin delved into the psyches of each character. As the character of Michael was exactly my age when he was first created, and continued to age along with myself throughout the series, I very easily identified with his changing views of life in the city. It's a wonderful read which is a must for every serious library.
on July 2, 2001
When I picked up "Babycakes," I was on a happy high. I'd learned there was more than just the three "Tales" books with the characters I'd met and loved from the "Tales of the City" trilogy. I was all ready to jump into that delightful care-free world (albeit a little reticent to bump into something like Jim Jones again, who showed up in "Further Tales of the City" and is the only disbelief I was unwilling to suspend).
However, staying true to the reality of the movement and the 80s, I found AIDS, death, decay and the long slide down from the fun and energy from the first three books. I didn't mind, though it was a bit of slap in the face, and the death of a major character to AIDS before the book even begins was a real punch in the stomach.
Put simply, Maupin drove home, hard, how vivid the change was for those who had existed in the care-free seventies, who found themselves suddenly trapped in the shallow, AIDS-ridden eighties.
The characters are back in full company, with the death of one major character, and the introduction of a few others. The story still focuses mostly around Michael and Mary Anne to my mind, but the rest of the "Tales" folk are definately along for the ride. The topics darken up a bit, and reality is definitely in play this time. I reccommend it, but with the warning that you're not getting the same care-free tone of the "Tales" trilogy - for the seventies are over.
on February 10, 2000
I read the 'Tales' series in 1994. I remember cracking open the first book and falling in love within the first few pages. These were characters that I really wanted to get to know, here was a picture of gay love that wasn't veiled or shadowed.
A week went by spent entirely with my new friends (interrupted only by an inconvenient search through the bookstores of Perth for an elusive copy of 'Further Tales').
I remember almost going into shock when I closed 'Sure of You', so strongly had Mouse and co. entered into my life. How could I return to my dull life after such pleasure and joy! Well I did, and a year later (the day I saw the 'Tales' mini-series at a film festival) I came out to my best friend. I realised that it was time to take some of that joy and freedom off the pages and the screen and into my own life. Six years later, I'm happy to report that there's many an interesting 'tale' to tell...
on August 29, 2001
Okay...I adored Mary Ann. I adored her for years. When I moved to NYC, I was given all six Tales of the City books as a present. I would read them and immediately recognize myself as sort of the little lost lamb. For five books, I loved her. Now I hate her. How could you make me hate her?!?!? But I am so glad you did...made me take another look at her and what she is supposed to be made of. However, I think the most enduring person is Anna Madrigal. Finally finding love in Greece (she predicted it in an earlier book) and Mona coming back after being gone for so long. Sigh....it's not the best of the bunch but the door is left opento pick up for a seventh installment...just to see if Mary Ann gets her comeuppance.
on June 23, 1999
Tales of The City captures the very spirit of San Francisco in the 1970's, as the spirit of the city, which surely is represented by the nickname 'Frisco, died. The City was not moral, nor neat. The victorians were seedy, the City in decay. But, nonetheless, Maupin describes the city as it was; determined to have a good time as it always had. Maupin depicts the economic classes as if he knew them intimately, and portrays the provincialism as it exists, without making the City look the worse for it. I moved here in part because of these books, having awakened in me as they did, the memory of the San Francisco I knew, just after I cut the apron strings and was sent here by Uncle Sam. It is a different place today. Tales of The City captures it as it was. Yea, the people were lonely, they did a lot of drugs, had a lot of meaningless sex, and ended up in the 'eighties none the less. But didn't we all? The story is entertaining, especially when viewed for itself: it was a newspaper article. Unless your morality is a vague as your sexuality, Tales of The City will transport you to the recent past, in an age where we can't believe that history was actually being made, but it was, and we might have been there, but for some twist of fate, or geography. If it corrupts you...you were probably corrupted to begin with, and just waiting to be swept away.
on October 14, 1999
"Babycakes" is one of the most touching novels in the "Tales of the City" series as it marks the end of the seemingly fun-filled pre-AIDS era, and the beginning of death, despair and tragedy. It's deliciously comic whilst at the same time having essences of profound sadness on every page. Freud would have a field day analysing the symbolic significance of the endless rain that drones on throughout most of the book. More sombre and more political than his first three novels Babycakes is firmly planted in the period of the very early eighties. Maupin is a topical writer and seems to draw influence from his immediate surroundings and the time in which he lives. Although almost twenty years have passed since the early 80s the relevance and importance of his subject matter remains undiminished by time.
on June 6, 2007
This is a toughie. This is Maupin's most beautifully written entry in the "Tales" series (owing partly to the fact that it was not originally written as a serial), but it's also the most disappointing. To this day, I'm still a bit confused as to why Maupin made Mary Ann turn out the way she did. Over the years, the more people I've talked to, the more I realized I wasn't alone. Some said Mary Ann was never quite the character we perceived her to be from the start but if that's so, why did so many feel so let down by her? Maybe Maupin's ideas of her and the reader's perception never matched from Book 1. Perhaps things would be different had Maupin not had Mary Ann be the first character introduced. We see San Francisco through her eyes, and we identify with her. What's that say about us when she ends up cold and unfeeling?
Time hasn't helped the case for the book either. Once the miniseries came out and Laura Linney became THE Mary Ann, it's even harder to read this final book. In the end, the fact that this book's still has people talking 18 years after it's release shows how much we grew to love these characters. This book is full of sadness, but also hope. Michael has AIDS and San Francisco is a different place than it was only a decade earlier, but we get glimmers of the new activism that rose out of the AIDS crisis, and would eventually help fuel the "gay 90s."
I am glad that Maupin will have a new book out soon that, while not officially a Tales book with its multi-character stories, will feature some of the old gang; it's been much too long. "Sure of You" may have been the end of the series but it's a classy, sad, depressing, troubling, frustrating and great finale.
This is a fun, late-20th Century take on the old theme of the virtuous midwestern girl who moves to the big city. Ulnlike Sister Carrie, though, Mary Ann Singleton is not so much the focus of the book as she is the touchstone by which other characters are measured and reveal themselves. Unfortunately, she lacks some of the emotional depth and appeal of Siste Carrie. Indeed, most of the characters in the book are paper thin. The result can be amusing and an excellent vehicle for satire, but not something that has great literary value. Maupin is more like Tom Wolfe than Dreiser in his ability to spin amusing yarns that have a good sense of the pulse of American culture, but without the depth and pathos that make for great literature.
The real hero of the book is not so much Mary Ann as it is the two most appealing gay characters (Michael Tolliver and the closet gay gynecologist) who, despite their untraditional lifestyles, conduct themselves according to a moral code that would resonate with traditional American and Christian values. Indeed, perhaps the book is most significant for its ability, 30 years ago in a different and less tolerant time, to portray gay characters realistically and sympathetically.
I find some of the upper class characters to be unbelievable and less than paper thin. Maupin is at his best in portraying the less lofty. Also, as a heterosexual who lived in San Francisco just a couple of years after this was written, I did not witness the ridiculously loose sexual mores portrayed in the book. Either Maupin is exaggerating to an unpardonable degree, or I horribly mis-spent by youth.
The plot is a soap opera, but the book on a whole is entertaining and worthwhile.
on June 9, 2005
The residents of 28 Barbary Lane first came into my life in 1991 and they've remained firmly amongst my favourite literary characters of all time. Having read several reviews of "Sure of You" expressing feelings of disappointment and betrayal, I felt I had to chip in with my "twopenny" worth.
The evolution of all of the main characters (guided by Maupin's prodigiously talented hand) is achingly believable and, I for one think that, as an epilogue, "Sure of You" hits exactly the right notes. The many Mary Ann fans out there who felt particularly let down are maybe in need of a reality check. Look at what has happened to these people in the 12 tumultuous years from 1976 to 1988. How can we realistically expect the warm, cosy, fun-loving and uncomplicated world of the "20somethings" in "Tales" to be untouched by the passage of time as they approach middle age. Mary Ann, in spite of flashes of good, was always an essentially selfish character (very early on she dropped the flaky, but undeniably good-hearted, Connie like a hot potato once she had no more use for her and her apartment). She only really began to warm to Brian once she found out he was an ex-lawyer giving a very early indication that social standing meant a great deal to her. By book three she was well on her way up the greasy pole and woe be-tide anyone who crossed her. The lusty, heart on his sleeve, happy-go-lucky Brian seemed always pre-destined to be left behind in her wake. None of these observations are to her credit but nor do they make her a monster, just a believable human being of the "ambitious, go-getting type" - a type, incidentally, often highly prized by a Society where people who don't achieve materially seem to be routinely referred to as "losers." Mary Ann achieved fame and fortune and I should hazard a guess that those two things change people for the worse far more often than for the better.
I absolutely agree that the last installment made for uneasy reading, but to rate this excellently written book as a one star turkey just because you don't like the direction of the story and development of the characters seems a little absurd.
Well done Armistead Maupin for so effectively holding up a mirror to our collective faces. Let's not blame him if we don't like everything we see in it. In any case Michael, Mrs M and Brian are as likeable in the last book as they are in the first - Brian perhaps more so.
I only hope Michael Mouse made it (I suspect, however, that it was unlikely that he would). The Tales Anthology is not a fairy story with a happy ending (watch the Wizard of Oz if you want that). It's simply a brilliant series of books with some of the richest characters and best dialogue ever put into print.