Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin

I didn’t feel right at home when I began Mary Ann in Autumn.  I thought I would. I expected to.  I always have before.  Each new addition to the Tales of the City books felt like bumping into a bunch of old friends I hadn’t seen in a while.  All of us grabbing a cup of coffee together so we could have a chance to catch up.  (Since we all know each other from San Francisco none of us actually drinks coffee.  Lattes, mochas, cappacinos, a chai maybe, but never just coffee.)

Mr. Maupin abandoned Mary Ann Singleton several books back.  She left San Francisco, her “husband” and their adopted daughter and headed off to New York City hoping to make it big in television.  She didn’t, but she married well and settled down to the life of a Connecticut housewife.  That’s tantamount to treason for someone from San Francisco.

It’s clear in the first few pages that this will be Mary Ann’s farewell book.  She begins by going back to the old homestead, 28 Barbary Lane, where we first met the main cast of characters living with the magical Mrs. Madrigal in the 1970’s when we read Tales of the City in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Mary Ann is looking for a past that’s gone.  Someone else lives there. They’ve fixed the place up.  Most of her old haunts have changed hands and changed names.  In an echo of the first novel’s opening line she considers going to the Buena Vista for an Irish coffee.  She’s not wearing a mood ring this time around, but if she were it’s color would be misty blue.  (You can look it up here.)

My problem is that Mr. Maupin has been saying  farewell to these characters for the past three or four novels.  We’ve been  saying goodbye to 28 Barbary Lane every couple of years since Significant Others (book 4) came out.

Then, some 60 pages into the book or so, Mary Ann gets a phone call from a stranger who asks if she remembers someone long dead and a mystery is a-foot.  I’d forgotten that Mary Ann’s story lines always involved some sort of mystery, something like a high camp Hitchcock.  A child pornographer who wears clip-on ties, a homeless mystic who might be the Rev. Jim Jones, a secret cult engaging in cannibalistic communion high in the rafters of Grace Cathedral.  Absurd plots that Mary Ann stumbles into while looking for Mr. Right.

And I felt at home again.

And I’m looking forward to another new Tales of the City book sometime soon.


I first ran this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B. five years or so ago when this book first came out. Since then, Mr. Maupin has said goodbye to Anna Madrigal in his most recent book The Days of Anna Madrigal. I think that’s everyone so I’m not expecting any more Tales of the City books, but you never know.  I used to re-read this entire series every couple of years, back when there were only four then only five books. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.  But I will still buy it; should another book come out.  Buy it and read it over a grande vanilla frape or maybe one of those Turkish coffees with mint you can get at Philz. You really must try Philz Coffee next time you’re in San Francisco.  The one near the Asian Art Museum is the best.

3 thoughts on “Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin

  1. I enjoy Armistad M’s novels, even tho’ I’m very far away (geographically ) from San Fran; I visited briefly in 2008 and liked what I saw . When I found City Lights bookstore I tho9ught I’d died and gone to heaven!

  2. I tried one of the titles – I think it was the first one – but couldnt get into it. I suspect though that you need to spend some more quality time with the characters to appreciate.

  3. These books so, so remind me of living on my own in London in the 90s. I daren’t go back to them, somehow. I read a couple of the new ones but not this or the Anna Madrigal one – I want to think of them all living there still!

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