on October 4, 2010
I'd never been to San Francisco when I read the first five Tales of the City books. Armisted Maupin had created this wacky, wonderful city that seemed as fictional as the setting of any fantasy. I saved book six for my first visit to San Francisco, and once I arrived, I discovered the magical city that Maupin had created was exactly as described. On that first visit to San Francisco, I called my best friend and said, "I'm pulling a Mary Ann." I've been here nearly a decade.
I relate the above to explain that these books have had a fairly significant influence on my life. These characters are dear friends. And at one point I did very much empathize with series protagonist Mary Ann Singleton. Over time, we grew apart. I didn't understand all the choices she had made. Now Mary Ann and I are both a lot older than we were when we first met. After all this time, it is such a pure delight to catch up with her!
Alas, things aren't going so well on her end--on a variety of levels. Robert Frost once said, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." For Mary Ann, that place is San Francisco, with Michael "Mouse" Tolliver. He and his husband Ben don't let her down. In addition to Mary Ann's crises, this novel spends significant time checking in with Michael's business partner, Jake, and Mary Ann's adopted daughter, Shawna. An extra bonus in this novel, for long-time devotees like me, is that one of the plot elements ties back to the very first Tales novel.
I read this novel in no time flat. It was a joy from start to finish! (Oh, and if I weren't blurring the lines between fact and fiction enough already, a real life acquaintance of mine makes a cameo appearance in the book! That's a first.) Armisted Maupin makes what he does look so easy, almost as if he's channeling the members of this non-traditional family. (The "logical family" as opposed to the biological family, as Anna Madrigal would say.) He imbues his tales with such humor and such heart. The stories are completely over the top, yet grounded in an emotional reality. No one does this better.
Armisted, I am so grateful that you're again telling tales of the city. I hope to visit with these friends for many years to come.
The TALES OF THE CITY series begins with Mary Ann Singleton's decision to remain in San Francisco. We first see the other characters through her eyes as she begins to explore her new home and gather her logical (as opposed to biological) family around her.. When the first series of six books concluded Mary Ann abandoned her home and friends for yet another new life in New York, leaving many readers - this one included - feeling as though they had been let down by an old friend. When Maupin at last returned to the series with MICHAEL TOLLIVER LIVES readers were delighted to once again catch up with old friends from Barbary Lane but rather saddened that Mary Ann only passed through the story.
Now we travel full circle as Mary Ann once again returns to the City, this time not as a sweet young girl full of hope but as an older, sadder woman seeking solace. Mary Ann's prefect life in Darien had fallen apart. Her trophy husband had disappointed her, her support system had crumbled when she needed it most so once again Mary Ann had turned to logical family, primarily Michael (Mouse) Tolliver, much to the discomfort of his husband Ben. As Michael helps Mary Ann the pair reconnect, enabling her to seek out her (and our) old friends, DeDe and D'Or, Anna, and Shawna. As always with this series the various seemingly unrelated plot lines twist through the story until they ultimately combine into a satisfying climax.
For all of us who had wailed "NOOOOOOOO!" at Mary Ann's departure at the end of SURE OF YOU her return in this novel is most satisfying. The joy of her return though is somewhat bittersweet as more of the ongoing plot lines reach conclusions that seem all too final. Maupin has gently reminded us that no one, not even those in as enchanted a place as San Francisco, will live forever.
This series of novels relates the stories of a group of San Franciscans, all connected with one another in some manner, that began with TALES OF THE CITY. The overall story arc is quite strong so begin at the beginning and proceed in order through this series.
Armistead Maupin deserves the highest kudos for what he has created. To think that TALES OF THE CITY started as a newspaper serial and then became one book, then another establishing characters that were so real it was as if the reader knew them all. San Francisco is a character just as much as the people. We have straight characters, gay characters, transgendered characters. Basically life itself is represented here. With each book over the years and decades Mr. Maupin has addressed the issues of the time and the characters have become even more endearing over time. A couple years back MICHAEL TOLLIVER LIVES brought readers back to a world of love and friends. Now he returns with MARY ANN IN AUTUMN. The main plot is about Mary Ann but many characters from the original series are here as well from the faithful Michael, Mrs. Madrigal, DeDe and D'or plus many others introduced over the years like Ben, Jake and Shawna. Barbary Lane itself has changed somewhat with the times and this is what keeps these novels alive. Armistead Maupin gives us what and who we loved from past novels while changing with the times and introduces great plots and new characters to care about with each venture. This novel is no different. Our beloved friends are back and reading this book is like curling up with your favorite blanket. The new characters are great and we even get brought back to a plot line from the past which I will leave a mystery. Just let me say this book delivers in all ways.
Please Armistead Maupin, don't stop here. Growing older with these beloved characters is a gift you cannot imagine. Highly recommended.
on November 6, 2010
It's a complete coincidence that I ended up in San Francisco just days before Mary Ann in Autumn, Armistead Maupin's latest installment of the Tales of The City series, was released. The trip was planned well before I ever knew the release date of the novel, but once I learned of the close proximity of the two events, my trip to the Bay Area transformed into a pilgrimage of sorts to Maupin's endearing and iconic works, Mrs. Madrigal, Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, and all the denizens of the Tales of the City.
After walking all the way from Market and Powell, getting lost, and going up and down Russian Hill at the grand old age of 46, I found myself, winded and sweating, standing on the steps of Macondray Lane--the real life inspiration for the house that has been etched into my psyche for so long--hoping to capture a little bit of the magic of that literary world. And it's only fitting that in the opening chapter of Mary Ann in Autumn, the titular character, Mary Ann Singleton, finds herself climbing those same stairs to catch a glimpse of her former home, 28 Barbary Lane. With a wistfulness and longing, the 57 year-old stares through the locked gate of the property, similarly trying to recapture the magic that had been her past life, one she abandoned so many years ago along with her husband and adoptive daughter.
With that scene, Maupin perfectly sets the tone for Mary Ann in Autumn, a sweet and solid entry in the Tales of the City mythos that is part nostalgia (for both the readers and the character of Mary Ann), and a deceptively simple exploration of the desire for one person to discover who they truly are after pursuing who they thought they wanted to be.
Mary Ann has returned to San Francisco after some shocking revelations in her personal life, and the first person she contacts is her old friend, Mouse, now happily married to the younger Ben. From the moment Maupin brings the two together, their voices are as if they have never been apart, easily falling into the playful (and sometimes serious) banter that made them an endearing couple of friends in the original works. And here is where the novel succeeds best: the rekindling of that relationship and the literary rehabilitation of Mary Ann.
In the original Tales novel and early sequels, Mary Ann Singleton was an immensely likable young woman, a naïve transplant to San Francisco from the bastion of conservatism, Cleveland. Her journey as she discovered who she was and how she reacts to a city as free as 1970s San Francisco was funny, charming, mysterious and a little bit sad. But starting in the 4th book in the series, Babycakes, Mary Ann found herself in search of a career and she became a not-so-likable person, one who seemed willing to turn her back on family and friends. It was disheartening for me as a reader to see Mary Ann transformed such. Now, don't get me wrong...it was utterly true to life. How many times have we all had someone in our lives who is incredibly dear to us who gets caught up in the desire to be something more and becomes someone we don't like so much any more? There was nothing at fault in Maupin's writing of those later three novels. It was spot on. I simply didn't want to see a dear, wonderful friend become someone I didn't like. I wanted her to always stay Mary Ann. And that, alone, is a testament to Maupin and the character he created. I never wanted her to change.
In Mary Ann in Autumn, though, we find a character who is, again, at a turning point. As she approaches the autumn of her life, she has obviously been taking stock, looking closely at her past choices, the repercussions of some not-so-great actions. In trying to find a way forward, she is looking back at the people she has left behind, one of whom happens to be herself. And she finds that little bit of herself, again. Don't get me wrong, Maupin doesn't magically convert Mary Ann back to whom she was. He doesn't absolve her of her sins. She's older, wiser, still a bit self-absorbed, but it almost feels as if she is exhaling all the inconsequential crap that has been in her life, so that she can breathe in again. And it is exactly in her relationship to Mouse that Maupin so expertly let's us like Mary Ann again, perhaps understand her a bit more.
Maupin also adds in outsiders, those who never knew the Mary Ann we all loved, to help in this rehabilitation, namely Mouse's husband, Ben who is a bit suspicious of this woman and her effect on Michael. Through him--someone without the shared history--we get to learn this new Mary Ann. As Mouse himself says to Ben "Look, I know you think she's a drama queen, but she's had some actual drama."
Now, in any Tales novel, a reader expects some humor, a little bit of mystery and wonderful characters. Maupin is in excellent form here, capturing everything we readers have loved about Tales, but never once relying on our nostalgia for the series. His 2010 San Francisco is just as vibrant and alive as his San Francisco of the 70s and 80s. It has simply grown and changed, morphed into something different, no less charming or infections as its previous incarnation.
In the mystery department, Maupin gives us Shawna, Mary Ann's estranged, adoptive daughter, now a popular sex-blogger looking for a new direction in her life. She fixates on an old homeless woman named Leia, and stumbles onto a mystery that she must solve, a mystery that gives us readers a genuine aha! moment or two that is richly satisfying. But that's not all...Facebook figures into it all as well, giving us yet another jolt that can't be revealed in a review. Now I tend to pride myself on figuring out twists and turns, but Maupin honestly got me on these. I didn't have it figured out until it was very clear that Maupin wanted me to. Perhaps I was just naive, but I was genuinely taken by surprise by the twists.
In the character department, Mrs. Madrigal is still with us and although her role is somewhat limited, she's just as pithy as always, each of her "dears" just warming my heart, and her spirit is richly pepered throughout the novel. DeDe Halcyon makes an appearance, as does D'or. And Maupin augments the Barbary Lane family with Jake Greenleaf, an immensely appealing trans-man, Michael's Ben, and Shawna's adorable and patient boyfriend Otto. These are all welcome additions to the family, feeling as natural as the characters we've all known for year.
Now, I have read a few reviews that mention the conspicuous absence of Brian Hawkins (Mary Ann's ex-husband and father of Shawna) and those who have read Michael Tolliver Lives know that the beloved Mona is no longer with us. But I never felt their absence in this novel because Maupin has expertly woven their spirits into the work. Mona is there...a large part of her spirit embodied in Shawna...and Brian is present as well, aspects of his personality richly resonant in two of the new characters. One might even spot a younger version of Mouse or, perhaps, a successor to Mrs. Madrigal.
In the end, Mary Ann in Autumn is still a love-letter to San Francisco. It's still a wonderfully magical series that, I think, Maupin has reinvented for the new millennium. He shows us that you can indeed go home again, though that home will have changed and grown just as we have. Most importantly, he shows us that while 28 Barbary Lane may have become a single-family dwelling, its spirit is still strong. Because 28 Barbary Lane isn't so much a time or a place, some clapboard building at the top of a set of rickety stairs...28 Barbary Lane is our "logical family," the family we've created and carry with us always, no matter where we may be.
"Mary Ann in Autumn" is Armistead Maupin's eighth novel in the "Tales of the City" stories. My suggestion would be, if you're not familiar with this wonderful series, to start at the beginning and read them in order. If you already are famliar with and have read the previous books, then it won't take you long to become very comfortable with what, over the years, have become good friends. Suffice it to say Mary Ann is the catalyst that brings them all together, her story around which it all flows. It's hard to believe most of these characters made their way into book form over thirty years ago. Maupin's charactes have become such good literary friends over those years, and any chance, such as provided by this latest book, to spend time with them once again is a treat indeed.
My first introduction to "Tales of the City" was back in the early 90's, when a friend, an avid reader, passed the first book onto me, suggesting I'd probably enjoy it. And enjoy it I did, promptly, through our local library, seeking out the remaining five books, all then available, in the series, suggesting to other friends that they must read the books, that they were in for a very special experience.
A regret for this fan, and probably for the author, is that, though several of the books made their ways to the screen and were wonderfully cast (imagine...Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney!), this probably will not be the fate of the remaining books. But Armistead Maupin is such a skilled storyteller that, screen treatment aside, it all comes vividly to life through his writing.
After I had read the first six books, I sent a letter to Maupin, through the books' publisher. I was thrilled to receive the nicest of replies to my "thank you" to him; I remember stating in my letter, "I had never heard of you until my friend had introduced me through the first book." In his letter to me, he said, "Don't apologize. I didn't know who you were either until I received your letter." Over the years I've made a point, now through e-mail addresses if available, of contacting authors whose works, on completion of a book, left me feeling I'd just had the best of reading experiences. Maupin's response to my letter is a treasured one among many I've received from so many authors.
Anyhow, I'm not telling you anything more about "Mary Ann in Autumn" other than, if you've not read the previous books, start at the beginning. And if you are familiar, well, then, this latest brings so much of the gang back for a more than satisfying reading experience.
on October 9, 2011
While this book is not about Mary Ann Summers, nor is she stranded on an island, it brings us up to date on Mary Ann Singleton,one of Armistead Maupin's central characters from his Tales of The City novels. For the novice Maupin reader, those books were based on a series of popular fictional newspaper articles that because of popular demand were compiled into a series of books and again because of popular demand, television miniseries. If you never have been fortunate enough to have read the articles, books or seen the miniseries this serves as a good introduction to those works. Mr. Maupin's destined to be remembered as an All American writer because he not only captured life in San Francisco since the late 1970's but in the U.S. as well through introducing us to a unique cast of characters who weave in and out of each other's lives through the passage of time and their journeys. He never keeps his readers bored as he creates subplots that overlap and come together which sometimes have you scratching your head and at other times makes you laugh at his character's insights. Another unique thing about his style is the characters range from being naive to those who live in a subculture, yet they all seem to be connected. In the case of the former you have Mary Ann Singleton. In these series, Mary Ann is the first character we meet in her trek from moving from the Midwest to San Francisco as she as a women of her times seeks to start her own life. There she meets what is to become lifelong friends Anna Madrigal, her land lady who's home becomes a mecca to young people somewhat like those who would later be on television's Melrose Place. Anna becomes a matriarch to Mary Ann and the other residents, including Michael Tolliver, better known as Mouse. Anna a transgendered man and mouse a gay man befriend Mary Ann, through marriages, divorce and remain loyal to her even when she leaves them to pursue her career in New York. Now, nearly thirty years after she leaves San Francisco, she reinvents herself moving back to San Francisco, going full circle to in a new sense start over. During this trek she must overcome being diagnosed with uterine cancer, a failed second marriage and a surprise encounter with Norman Neil Williams whom she believed to have been dead. As with other Maupin books you'll never want to put it down. There is only one complaint-we want more! Perhaps now that Mr. Maupin has devoted entire books to Mouse and Mary Ann, we can hope there will be a book about Anna Madrigal to follow. Happy reading.
on April 22, 2012
I had to fly home from a vacation I didn't want to see end, but luckily I had this book on my kindle - and it made the trip worth it. Returning to old friends is an understatement when speaking of "The Tales". Fabric of my adult life. Always thinking where I was at any given novel and now seeing Mary Ann & Michael (truly) 15 years my senior. But so enthralled in where their lives have gone. Invested in their friendship. Maupin writes with such an ease: no pretense. No mess. I fall right into his words and finish books in one sitting. I love that his gay and straight characters live in the same worlds. His are not "gay books". They are people. People we know and we love. People who (at times) seem like us, but his mastery of adding enough mystery and intrigue keep us coming back for more. Thank you for returning to these people throughout your career. Thank you for showing the changing times in our lives and theirs through your magnificent stories. Thank you for encouraging other generations to write. What an author and what a wonderful chapter in the lives of literary friends.
on June 7, 2013
I've read the first six books in the series 9 times now since 1986, but these last two (Michael Tolliver Lives and Mary Ann in Autumn are just tiresome).
Again and again Maupin throws in a bunch of tiresome minutiae as if he's writing a journal rather than a novel, minutiae such as the making of a sandwich and chatting on Facebook, too much stuff about the labradoodle, and on and on. It's all just filler for an author who really has little to say at this point. In short, the stuff that happens in these latest books lacks universality, and so it's hard to relate anymore.
Worse still, all the younger "next generation" characters are as flat as cardboard. What's Maupin know about the lives of 20-something hipsters in San Francisco? Only what he can imagine, and it doesn't ring true. Even beloved Mrs. Madrigal is cardboard in these last two books. She's a zombie. The living dead. A shadow of her former self, and yes, she's older, but that doesn't mean she has to be boring or doesn't have an interest in the world or things to keep her interested in life.
Also, much of the writing rings hollow, and the geriatric sex stuff gets old fast (but thankfully it's not as bad as in Michael Tolliver Lives, where it just got tiresome beyond belief). This isn't writing. This is imaginary (but not very imaginative) journaling.
Maupin's writing another Tales story after this one (gotta make those house payments, I guess) but what's the point really? The characters aren't even likable or joyful in the least anymore.
Back in the day I devoured each Tales of the City novel. I adored the quirky characters and the locale. Now all these years later Mary Ann returns to San Francisco from the East Coast, seeking emotional sustenance from her long ago friend Michael (Mouse). She has caught her second husband Bob (the Republican) having sex via Skype which he inadvertently (perhaps) left on after speaking with her, with Mary Anne's life coach Calliope. To make matters worse Mary Ann must have a hysterectomy because of possible uterine cancer. Fleeing to San Francisco her friend Micahel puts her up in his cottage while she undergoes the surgery and its aftermath, while other friends of her's from former Tales of the City days also rally around.
I don't know if I'm the one who has changed or Maupin has. I just couldn't abide this examination of San Francisco values. Although Mary Ann's friends rally round to help her, her own values leave much to be desired, at least in my opinion. I found her self-centered in the extreme. Back in the day when she was married to Brian, another Barbary Lane denizen, and had adopted a baby, Shawna, she dumped them both for a better professional opportunity back East. Now Shawna is a grown woman who is living in San Francisco, yet Mary Ann doesn't seem to have any interest in her. What baffles me is that despite conversations with Michael and Mrs. Madrigal about the topic, they both support her decision to cast Shawna away like an unwanted and bothersome dress, so that Mary Ann can 'fulfill' herself. Mrs. Madrigal in particular supports this view. After all she had cast her own daughter away when she decided to transgender to womanhood. As an adoptive mother myself I found Mary Ann's behavior and the others' response to it distasteful.
Then there is sixty year old Michael and his much younger husband Ben. Despite their seemingly loving relationship, Ben sees nothing wrong with having trysts with other men as long as he is back with Michael at the end of the day. He and Michael then debrief the tryst. It is obvious Michael suffers pain and insecurity over Ben's infidelities yet endures them as he believes 'men will be men', and Ben sees nothing wrong with inflicting such pain on the man he supposedly loves. Like Mary Ann, Ben is just another narcissist doing what is good for himself.
Finally the novel is totally ruined by an unbelievable plot involving Shawna's interest in a crack-addled homeless woman and her past that seems to be tied to Barbary Lane. It is so unbelievable that it is laughable. I would say this novel left me cold, but in reality it left me totally dismayed with the human condition.
on May 17, 2012
Well, if you've made it this far, you are no doubt a fan of Maupin's extremely addictive "Tales of the City" series. This latest addition to the resurrected and much beloved series of books about a group of friends living in San Francisco (an extended family, if you will) is full of all the elements that readers love about the books. This one is full of funny, heartbreaking, maddening, and thrilling incidents. And as always, Maupin throwns in a few surprises to keep the reader off balance. These are characters that many of us have literally grown up with, and have become attached to, and it's a delight to meet their acquaintance once again. Plus, Maupin introduces to a few new characters, along with some that have grown from children to adulthood. Life goes on. This is a sheer joy to read and fans of the series are sure to embrace this novel. We are Family.