72 of 73 people found the following review helpful
I remember picking up a copy of TALES OF THE CITY way back in 1978 at a local bookstore. It was love at first sight and it has never wavered. Waiting for the next in the series is one of the joys of being alive. Now we have what is being called the last novel in the series THE DAYS OF ANNA MADRIGAL, perhaps the most beloved of all of Armistead Maupin's many lovable characters. And we are reminded, a little sadly, that nothing lasts forever. The orange and black Monarch butterfly does not flutter its beautiful wings for long.
Besides Mrs. Madrigal, the characters who over the years have become as real to us as our own friends and family are back again: chiefly Brian, Michael, Mary Ann and Shawna. Of course Mr. Maupin adds other characters, Lasko, Margaret, Wren (sort of) et al. Without giving away too much of the plot, Mrs. Madrigal (we finally find out where she got her name) has unfinished business; and time is not on her side. After all, she is now 92, in frail health and smokes medical marijuana rather than the delicious pot she used to grow herself. By the way, she finds it tiresome being told that she is immortal. And all these characters make their way to Nevada, some to a Burning Man event, while Mrs. Madrigal and others travel to the place where she lived until she ran away at 16, Winnemucca.
Mr. Maupin has not lost his touch. All the elements we have come to expect of his story-telling are here. The story is always a little quirky, just off-center with enough surprises to keep us guessing but always firmly set in the here and now, mirroring the times. We are then not surprised that characters are on FaceBook, they google, they use Craigslist, they navigate with a GPS, they travel in Rvs, they use You Tube. He can completely bring characters to life with telling us only a thing or two about them. I'm thinking now of Brian's mother, "the Irish housewife from Harrisburg who collected spoons from every state." Without being didactic Maupin reminds us that he is a liberal and certainly for gay rights. As Brian reminds us: "We invade a country, bomb the s*** out of it, kill hundreds of thousands of people, and we still don't have the decency to say its name right." And the novel deals head-on with gay teenagers and unsympathetic parents. Finally amid the humor that makes us smile (Shawna is afraid that another character will say "Namaste" and is relieved when he doesn't), Mr. Maupin interjects something totally profound and beautiful about the way life is: Mrs. Madrigal opines that you cannot be loved by someone who does not want to know you. Michael reminds us that "Teenagers rage against the end of childhood, old people against the end of everything. Instability was a permanent condition that adapted with the times." And even more importantly, "It occurred to Michael that this was the great perk of being loved, someone to wait for you, someone to tell you that it will get easier up ahead. Even when it might not be true." Finally as Mr. Maupin has shown his grateful readers in many languages in each of the eight previous TALES OF THE CITY series, the LGBT community makes its own family.
At one point in this novel that I did not want to end, Mrs. Madrigal takes Brian by the hand and says: "'I wish we were all back at Barbary Lane. Just for an hour or two. The whole family. Sitting in the garden and telling our stories.'" I do too.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
I was first introduced to Tales of the City by my late friend Daniel. We were both from Cleveland, so it brought smirks to our faces. Instead of the west coast, we went east to NYC. He died from AIDS shortly after my daughter was born in 1990. I miss him very much.
It is hard to review this book because of the twist and turns in the plot. I do not wish to spoil anything for the fans and perhaps new fans of this series. Let me just say that I found it pleasing though in spots the prose was a bit rough. The plotline concerning Anna was the most satisfying. We learn her his-story which predates her hers-story. One may even say that one finds the source of her compassion which is felt throughout the entire series.
In a way, this book filled a private need for me since the passing of my friend. Through this book, I was allowed to see him through the character of Mouse grow old with both some insecurities and some wisdom. I had the chance to see how my friend might have lived his life. For that, I am grateful. It allowed me to hear chats that I miss so very much when I think of him. My friend Daniel, frenetic, never a loss for words, would have chortled, yes, chortled with these comments. He was just that way.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
I have loved Anna and the kids of 28 Barbary Lane for decades. I remember eagerly awaiting the San Francisco Chronicle when the stories first came out. They were serialized, and people awaited the next installment to see what happened next. Thus, when you look upon the first books, the chapters were short--say, the length of a newspaper column--and they teased and tantalized you so you'd want to read more.
Of course, those days are long past. And for many years, we all thought we would never hear from Anna Madrigal, Mouse, Mary Ann and Brian ever again. But with Michael Tolliver Lives, then Mary Ann in Autumn (Tales of the City) and now The Days of Anna Madrigal, we can be with our old friends again.
While I loved the continuation of the story, I found that in the last two books, Maupin shifted from story line to character line. Gone were the twists and turns of old; in fact, while there were some plot twists, they seemed disjointed and flat. And in this book in particular, we got a deep history of Anna's life, but we never seemed to get into her head. We lived her past, but didn't hear or feel what was happening with her, in the now. I felt like even though this book was about Anna, she was almost absent from the story.
This feeling translated to the other characters as well. Brian and Mary Ann took back stage. Even though Brian had a major event in his life, we never got close to what he was thinking or feeling, just what he was DOING.
I felt like Maupin was observing his characters instead of speaking for him. I'm hoping that if Maupin writes another in this series, he can get back to his storytelling at its best...when he lets us into their heads and weaves them into our hearts.
I can't tell Maupin fans to NOT read this book. I still enjoyed it. But I feel like Maupin isn't as attached to these wonderful characters as he once was.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
It's funny how things work out. I share a place with my sister (we are the proverbial Baldwin sisters, she a widow, me a spinster). She flew to the left coast for a reunion with friends and I stayed home only to be reunited with my Barbary Lane friends. I am not a quick reader, I tend to savour, doubly true in this instance. I don't look at these books as independent volumes, but rather additional chapters in the same story. Maupin has said this is the last in the series. I hope not. Sinatra announced his retirement how many times? Who knows, maybe in ten years he'll desire yet another visit.
So, what's the verdict on The Days of Anna Madrigal? I loved it. All our friends both old and new are represented. However, my favourite part of this novel was learning about Andy Ramsey as a boy. Set in Winnemucca in 1936 it is a heartfelt, emotionally engaging coming-of-age tale. The ending was especially moving, simply executed and spiritually liberating for this reader - and not at all what I thought it would be. Oh sure, some of the story felt predictable (I thought I might go all Annie Wilkes at one point) and Armistead has always been rather free with a coinkydink - but we lovers of Tales of the City are comfortable with and accepting of these traits. Besides, coinkydinks happen. Why only last week I was writing about Mr. Tumnus and researching fauns and satyrs, and presto: a faun appears in these pages. Ah, serendipity.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2014
This was not the end to a magnificent series that this novel should have been. This book could have been longer and brought the entire logical family back together at the end of the story and in San Francisco. To end a series so abruptly as with the ending of this novel does a disservice to the entire saga. I will miss these characters and their tales.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2014
I have loved this series, and have read many of the books multiple times. While the writing is fairly average, the CHARACTERS created and developed over the past few decades (since 1976) have been warm and endearing and real. When walking around SF, it feels like they have truly walked there before me. I've gone in search of some spots immortalized in the novels and mini series, climbed the steps at Macondray (aka Barbary) Lane, and an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista immediately after moving here, etc. In retrospect, in addition to these remarkable characters, the books captured the additional character of "San Francisco" in a way no one else ever has. While I already loved this city, Maupin made me fall deeper in love with it and what it meant to those who chose to call it home.
This last book in the Tales series left me wanting. I finished it a few days ago, and I think I have figured out what bothered me the most. While all the characters from this series were amazing, the strongest and most consistent one to me was the City itself....and it was all but missing in this last novel. To me, this largest and most vibrant "character" was disregarded. It reminds me of the SATC tv series - NYC itself was a huge "5th character". Both of these stories were so intertwined with the location where they were set, the actual name of the city did not have to be spelled out, just mentioned as "The City" in their respective titles (Tales of the City, Sex and the City). When SATC made the mistake of not only making a 2nd movie but changing the setting to Abu Dhabi, it was doomed to flop. The removed the heart of the story by moving it, and that is how I feel about The Days of Anna Madrigal. My beloved SF was cast aside, and in doing so the story lost its soul.
Interestingly, I went to a book launch for this novel, with Armistead Maupin and Andrew Sean Greer (The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells) and the two were talking quite a bit about their personal experiences at Burning Man. At one point Andy said, you know, I think most Burning Man stories are excruciatingly boring to anyone who wasn't there (or something to this effect). At that time I didn't realize much of the story took place at Burning Man, or with the planning to go to BM or the drive to BM. And Andy was right. The book did not give me any clue what it is really like, the descriptions I think are lost on anyone who has not been there, and unlike the way SF was presented in earlier books, this story did not ignite any desire whatsoever to ever go to BM. It was dull, the characters who were so well developed over the past 35+ years felt flat and boring and superficial, and it left me liking them all (yes all) a little bit less. I think these characters deserved better, and certainly the heart and soul of the previous 8 novels, "the city", deserved to be a shining beacon rather than cast aside.
For those who LOVE these characters and fell in love (or deeper in love) with San Francisco though reading the first 8 books, you might want to take a pass on this one.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2014
There is a "no way!!!" moment at the end of "Mary Ann In Autmn" where the character named Cliff pulls a folded photograph of Mary Ann Singleton from his pocket. Inscribed, "To Cliff: Thanks for the memories! Mary Ann," it sent me scrambling back through the pages of "Sure of You" to be certain I wasn't mistaken, because something in me remembered the exact innocuous moment Mary Ann signed that picture. And, sure enough, there it was, really a throwaway moment in "Sure of You," but one which would come back in a big way.
And it was there that I discovered, after years of reading this series of novels, that there is something beyond Maupin's ability to draw amazingly realized characters, settings and themes that attracts me on a deeper level to his writing. That is his penchant for coincidence, or coinkydink, of which he says there is no such thing. And yet, it turns up time and again. And again. And again. The first novels of the series, being published serially, relied on coinkydink to move the stories along. Maupin's later novels are peppered with coinkydink--Ned Lockwood's fate revealed in "Maybe the Moon," Anna Day as Gabriel Noone's bookkeeper in "The Night Listener," Gabriel Noone himself popping up in cameo in "Mary Ann In Autumn," these are all momentary coinkydinks that make the reader feel as if they are in on the joke.
And so, here we have "The Days of Anna Madrigal," the supposedly final tale of the city (although, that is probably as much debatable as "Sure of You" was the final tale of the city or "Michael Tolliver Lives" was not intended to be a tale of the city). And we have a novel that relies on conkydink just as surely as all Maupin's novels do. Only this spin around the block doesn't make any bones about it. There is no such thing as coinkydink, a minor character tells us, in the midst of one of the novel's biggest coinkydinks. It's a self-referential moment that almost pokes fun at the entire series of novels while commenting on one of their biggest attractions. And that's okay. After 38 years this series has earned the right to be self-referential.
And there is no end of self-reference in this novel, which brilliantly balances its connection with its past alongside major revelations about its title character. It is this sort of balancing act that makes Maupin so ultimately readable. But it may also work against first-time readers of, or even dabblers in, Maupin's fiction. This novel begs you to know its history, even as it pours out more of that history. While there is a wonderful surface story here, the story of Andy Ramsey at age 16 contrasting with the story of Anna Madrigal at age 92, it is what's beneath the surface that matters in this novel, and I don't think that can be fully realized without knowing what has gone before.
Here we have Anna, in what she knows are her last days, taking a trip home to Winnemucca, Nevada, in order to make peace with a mysterious moment from her past. Getting her there is the task of Brian Hawkins and his new bride, Wren Douglas (a very welcome return from her too-brief appearance in "Significant Others"), and along the way we learn not only how Anna chose her name (if you thought it was because it was an anagram, she delightfully puts that notion to rest with a wonderful comment about blowing smoke...), but more importantly we learn why she has such a fondness for and affinity with Brian Hawkins. Anna's revealing the importance of their relationship to Wren is one of the novel's most tender and affecting moments, and I'm not ashamed to say it brought a tear to my eye. It's really the moment I was waiting for. Anna's "completion" in her relationships with the rest of her "children" has already been made in previous books, and Brian remained the only standout amongst them. This novel brings that relationship full-circle, and in a brief but delicately-crafted exchange, brings the closure that is needed, if, indeed, this is the final novel in the series. The subsequent reveal of the event in Anna's life that she needs to make peace with almost pales in comparison. But that is why I can't see this as a stand-alone novel. If you haven't read the novels that come before, that moment takes a backseat to the story of how Anna chose her name, and it IS a good and important story--I just don't think it's as important as Anna's closure with Brian. And so much of the novel is like this. So much can only be truly realized if you have the knowledge of what has gone before.
How else can one truly grasp the significance of the group of boys from Stanford, including their "new chum" (read Edgar Halcyon) visiting the Blue Moon Lodge on the same night that Andy has his encounter with a half Mexican/half Basque boy with whom he is infatuated; the irony of Edgar Halcyon losing his virginity to someone he doesn't care about on the same night Andy refuses to lose his to someone he does care about; the parallels between Andy's conversation with Margaret about a valise and Anna's conversation with Edgar years later about Boris the cat? It's all lost if you don't have that background.
And background is really what this novel is all about. It references ad-infinitim the past relationships of its major characters - Mary Ann and Brian, Mary Ann and Shawna, Shawna and Otto, Jake and Jonah, Brian and Connie, Mary Ann and Connie, Anna and Mona, Michael and Mona, Michael and Jon. Ironically, the one character it fails to mention altogether is Thack Sweeny, and this omission is all the more recognizable because Wren played a major part in Michael and Thack getting together those many years ago. It's a question left unanswered, but it's not the only one.
The parallel story to Anna's visiting Winnemucca with Brian and Wren is that of the entire rest of the cast of characters visiting Burning Man in 2012. Each have their own reasons for being there, and each have great story arcs. Jake and his friends have built a wonderful art car in the form of a magnificent Monarch Butterfly intended to convey Anna through the throng at the festival, only be talked out of the idea by Selina and Margeurite, who finally, if all-to-briefly, actually play a part in moving the plot of a Maupin novel, their previous appearences being altogether completely ineffectual and ineffective. Shawna has a life-altering plan that will both endear her to and distance her from Michael and Ben, and Michael and Ben...well, what can be said? They have actually been the center of the previous two novels. In "Michael Tolliver Lives" we learned all about Michael's insecurity about his relationship with Ben and how he overcame it. In "Mary Ann In Autmn" conversations with Mary Ann brought forth Michael's insecurity about his relationship with Ben, and he overcame it all over again. And here, the concept of running around in the sexually liberated atmospehere of Burning Man brings out Michael's insecurity about his relationship with Ben, and I guess it's fine if you're a first time reader, but if you've experienced all the history, you're ready to take a cast iron frying pan to Michael's head. Even Ben has had enough. "How many times do I have to marry you before you get it?" Ben asks, conveying what all the rest of us are feeling.
The novel has an emotional climax, that actually has nothing to do with Anna Madrigal, and I have to admit I was brought to tears. But, there is a last minute reprieve, wherein it feels like Maupin in a desperate re-write, remembered what the novel was supposed to really be about, and so it ends with the literary equivalent of a question mark. And that's not a bad thing, it just doesn't feel right. For a novel that is supposed to be the end of things, it leaves too many doors open. But, perhaps that's the message. At one point, Anna observes that life is not tidy. And so it is probably fitting that this novel fails to offer a tidy ending. Anna thinks for a moment, "I wish we were all back at Barbary Lane. Just for an hour or two. The whole family. Sitting in the garden and telling our stories." It's the wish every reader of this series has, and every reader of this series knows cannot happen. The fact of the matter is, there is no more 28 Barbary Lane, and there's no going back. It's a wistful dream in an untidy reality.
But for those of us who've been there, if only in our dreams, if only in the words Maupin has put on paper, 28 Barbary Lane doesn't have to be an actual place. Without wanting to sound cliché, 28 Barbary Lane is a state of mind. It's the place where we can always come home to and be welcomed by the loving arms of a grande dame, who wants nothing more than to hear our stories. It's the place where we feel "home" because it is the culmination of all our hopes, all our fears, all our triumphs, all our regrets and all our love. I like to believe that, and for that reason "The Days of Anna Madrigal" remains a worthwhile novel. It feels like coming home.
19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Though bringing back (for the third time since the first ending of the chronicle) characters from "Tales of the City" in Sure of You (Tales of the City Series, V. 6)in 1989, the cover of "The Days of Anna Madrigal" (showing a view from San Francisco of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge) seems misleading to me. Almost the whole novel is set in Nevada, at a contemporary Burning Man Festival and Winnemucca, the town with legalized prostitution to which the now 92-year-old Anna Madrigal returns, where she grew up as a boy named Andy, the son of the Blue Moon bordello owner. A substantial -- and for me, the best -- part of the book takes place in 1936 Winnemucca, where Andy was smitten by a swarthy and masculine Basque classmate called Lasko, while confused about feeling he was really a girl (in a boy's body).
Andy surgically altered decades ago into Anna is far from being the only transgendered character in the novel, though for me she is the only interesting one. Former compulsive womanizer Brian is back with a plump new wife with the incongruous name of Wren. They take Mrs. Madrigal to Winnemucca in Brian's RV. Brian's daughter, Shawna, is at the Burning Festival, shopping for a sperm donor. The now-62-year-old Michael ("Mouse") Tolliver, who practically coparented her is at Burning Man with his much-younger husband Ben, feeling shivers of mortality even more than Mrs. Madrigal is. A redeemed Mary-Ann (Brian's ex-wife, Michael's best friend when they moved from Cleveland to San Francisco once upon a time) is also on hand, though the most interesting new (to readers) characters are Lasko and Margaret (who did much to raise Andy as a daughter) from 1936.
Though there is no particular closing of the saga within the novel, and I suspect that I would enjoy a tenth installment in a few years, this one is purportedly the ninth and final novel in what began in 1976 as a newspaper (San Francisco Chronicle) serial. If Maupin is trying his wings as a historical novelist, I think he is ready. There is lots of topical (2012) stuff in the novel, but it is the flight back to the past that flies IMHO, and I think that Maupin was right to make Mrs. Madrigal the title character. Among many other things, the reader learns that the accent should be on the second syllable (DREE).
There is so much rehashing of what was chronicled in earlier volumes, that someone who has not read the previous eight installments could probably make sense of and enjoy this one. Those of us who have read them can do with reminders, I think, so this is not a significant drawback.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I'm the kind of reader who when reading a long biography of a historical figure or a dead celebrity doesn't want the book to end because I know that the subject of the biography is going to die and I will have to grieve afterwards.
With Armistead Maupin's "The Days Of Anna Madrigal" my grieving began on page one and continued through the end. Not because of what happens to any of the characters in the book but because the author has announced this ninth novel in the series will be his last. To be honest I cried my way through much of the last half of the book because I knew I was losing (fictional) friends that had been part of my consciousness for decades as we all grew together to middle age and beyond and watched as the world changed.
What hasn't changed over these years is Armistead Maupin's ability to tell stories and create authentic, fully dimensional characters, his powers of observation of human foibles and his gentle lampooning of the insular world of the extended Madrigal family as well as the outside world. He's been doing this for a long, long time and "The Days Of Anna Madrigal" is the absolute apotheosis of his narrative skill.
The story line centers on an RV trip to and the Blue Moon Brothel, in which the now 92 year old Anna was raised, to complete some unfinished business (a Winnebago to Winnemucca), which brings the story of an extraordinary life full circle, back to where Anna Madrigal started her life's journey.
At the same time the members of the self-created Barbary Lane family descend on the Nevada desert for that convergence of offbeat humanity known as Burning Man (or as Michael calls it "a Fellini carnival on Mars.) All of the key members of the Madrigal family are here for the literary winding up; Anna's caretaker/companion Jake Greenleaf, original Barbary Street tenants Michael Tolliver ("Mouse") and his partner Ben, Brian Hawkins with his daughter Shawna and a new wife plus his ex-wife, the one and only Mary Ann Singleton.
What happens at Burning Man is less important than Burning Man's role as haven to the outcasts and oddballs - a crowded, overgrown version of what Barbary Lane was to its residents when they originally came together almost 40 years previously.
What happens at Burning Man will also provide fodder for arguments as to exactly how the book and the story ends. I'd say more but that would require a spoiler alert.
"The Days Of Anna Madrigal" does an excellent job of honoring its legacy as well as preparing its characters for a future that sadly we won't be able to share with them.
Thanks to Armistead Maupin for a dignified, delightful departure and for the rapturous journey to get there.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
For the reader, one of the best things about series books like Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" is the return of old friends. Characters who the reader has come to treasure and who the author has the happy job of "updating" in each successive novel. And this is what Maupin has done in his latest - and supposedly last - book, "The Days of Anna Madrigal".
"Days" takes place in San Francisco and Nevada. One is the Nevada of the 1930's brothel and the other is of the 2012 Nevada of "Burning Man". (Readers not familiar with "Burning Man" should look it up on Wiki. I'm not able to make even a stab at explaining it.) Anna Madrigal - the wonderful "den mother" to the crowd at 28 Barbary Lane - is in her early 90's. She and the rest of the house people - including "Mouse" Tolliver, Brian Hawkins, Mary Ann Singleton - have moved on with their lives. Some Yuppie lawyers now live in the gentrified old house on Barbary Lane and Anna lives in a house with a young man who takes care of her. But Anna has a yearning to return to Winnamucca, Nevada, to see the small town she ran away from in the late 1930's. Her friends decide to take her; this could be her last trip.
The book, which isn't particularly long, is a sweet look at the various characters in Anna's long life. Some have died and others have just passed off. Relationships change and evolve and yet Anna is the character 'round whom the others gravitate.
A couple of things. I would not recommend this book to anyone not familiar with the "Tales" characters and plots. There's just too much intricate plotting and character evolving to follow the story if you're just jumping in with "Days". If you're ambitious, start with the first of the series. The other thing is that while Maupin says this is the final book in the series, I'm skeptical. I think he said the same thing about his previous novel, "Mary Ann in Autumn" and here he's back with more. I hope he returns again; I'm not finished with my old friends.