I enjoyed this book.
I have read all of Armisetead Maupin’s Tales of the City books, some of them multiple times, a few of them many, many times.
I even read one of them when it was serialized in the San Francisco newspapers. Remember those?
But I think this is the last one I’m going to read. I’ve no idea if it will be the last one Mr. Maupin writes. He keeps saying he has reached the end he writes another.
In The Days of Anna Madrigal he says goodbye, kind of, to Anna Madrigal, the transgendered former landlady at 28 Barbary Lane where most of the earlier books were set. The trouble is Mr. Maupin has been saying goodbye to one character or another for some time now. I’m wondering if the Tales of the City books have always been about saying goodbye. (John Fielding, Edgar Halcyon, Mona Ramsey, Connie Bradshaw. The years have taken their toll.) In the opening scene of the very first book Mary Anne Singleton is on the phone inside the Buena Vista, Irish coffee in hand telling her mother back in Cleveland that she is not coming home.
Now Mrs. Madrigal is 92 years old, fully aware that she is nearing the end of her life. Before she goes she wants to pay one last visit to Winnemucca, Nevada where she was born and raised at the Blue Moon, the brothel that her mother ran. She won’t tell the friends who are taking her there exactly why she wants to make this strange “trip to Bountiful” but they are used to her mysterious ways. Long time readers of The Tales of the City know to expect a mystery of some sort in each volume.
The remaining cast of characters is all on the way, one way or another, to the Burning Man celebration in the Nevada desert. Which is kind of a problem.
If you live in San Francisco, or lived there in my case, then the best Tales of the City books are the ones that actually take place in The City. The one where they go on the cruise, the one that mostly takes place in London, these we don’t like so much. (I’m sure the good people of London hold a different point of view. ) For me, the central charm of The Tales of the City was always The City. The City and the characters, yes, but the characters mean as much to me as they do because they are connected to San Francisco. Place matters.
I know that much of the time Armistead Maupin was name dropping, setting a scene in a particular bar just because it was popular, mentioning a local celebrity just because it was fun to do so, but most of the time, in the early books at least, the location mattered to the story. A gay man living in San Francisco in the 1970’s and 80’s desperate to find money for this month’s rent really would consider entering the wet jock strap contest at the End Up which was a real event at a real place in San Francisco. (For the record I was never that desperate for rent money, but I once knew someone who was…..)
Mr. Maupin doesn’t live in San Francisco anymore. You can kind of tell in The Days of Anna Madrigal. (I don’t live there anymore either– I should add.) So I can forgive him for moving his cast to Burning Man as quickly as he can. Except, Burning Man? I’ve never been and I’m never going to go, so I cannot comment on how integral place is to The Days of Anna Madrigal since it’s not a place I know at all. Maybe some other blogger will do so. I missed the fun I used to have when the characters met at some location I had been to or one I could go to.
Still, there are bits in The Days of Anna Madrigal like this scene when Mrs. Madrigal asks her young friend Jake about the computer game he is playing:
“Are you winning?” she asked.
“You don’t exactly win,” he replied.
“Ah,” she said, as she returned to her book.
No, you don’t, she thought. You just get to the end.
Okay, that makes me tear-up a little, darn you, Anna Madrigal and darn you, Armistead Maupin.
Should there be another Tales of the City book, I’m sure I will read it. Who am I fooling.
I’ll read it. Even if it is set in Oakland.