Monday, October 01, 2007

Armistead Maupin is a god

I am reading the latest of his books, a return to form in a way called Michael Tolliver Lives. Michael is of course "Mouse", one of the characters from his first six novels, the Tales of the City series. For the sad few of you who had missed this delightful, maddening and ultimately sad series of novels, there is a bit of an explanation in order. Started as a series in the San Francisco Chronicle before moving to the Examiner, the first three novels are wonderful little gumballs of San Francisco on the 70's: wonderfully improbably coincidences, wild plots and wacky characters, all grounded by Maupins masterful prose making fully rounded people out of what in the hand off lesser writers could have been cartoons. The three later novels are truthful to the times, the dear, dim, dead 80's, the decade of disaffection, greed, and AIDS. Those are harder to read, since you've spent three novels getting to know and love these people (at least I did as a kid; if I had known anyone in San Francisco, like Mary Ann I would have thrown caution to the wind and moved happily to The City), watching them grow up, grow older, grow apart and sometimes die is tough, but worth it. Maupin is nothing if not a masterful storyteller.

His mastery is in evident in Michael Tolliver Lives. For the first time, he uses first-person narrative: this novel is told only from Mouse's perspective. We visit, or at least learn the fate of people whom we have grown to love in the past novels; without giving too much away, some are here, some are not. There is a dominant theme of facing death: Mouse is in his mid-fifties and HIV-positive, living with his devoted 26 year old husband and facing the death of his fundamentalist mother, as well as the advancing age of his adopted mother/muse, Anna Madrigal. I'm not halfway through it, but I am sure there will be kleenex involved soon.

I highly recommend these books; I was about 10-15 years too young to be a part of that time of the first three, but I hope they are a perfect fairy-tale snapshot of that particular decade. I can personally vow for the accuracy of the last three, with the pain of loss from AIDS and the general ennui of the 80's. I hope that I can muster the grace of Mouse in the midst of my own mid-fifties.

Which will happen 30 years fom now.


helg said...

Glad I stumbled upon your blog ;-) This sounds like a great book rec (so thanks!)
It takes lots of courage to be liek Mouse in such an age, though. Usually people become embittered...

tmp00 said...

Hi Helg!

Thanks! I hope you enjoy it!

Esri Rose said...

Boy, it's been years since I read the Tales of the City series, but I remember they were so well written. I should read them all again.