Posts Tagged ‘Armistead Maupin’

annaWhile watching Downton Abbey, I was thinking about Armistead Maupin’s The Days of Anna Madrigal (HarperCollins, digital galley), the ninth and supposedly final entry in the long-running Tales of the City series. It’s not so much a stretch as you might suppose. For starters, there’s Laura Linney, who introduces Masterpiece Theatre and who played Mary Ann Singleton in the Tales miniseries and is so identified with the character that Maupin dedicated his last novel, Mary Ann in Autumn, to her.

Anna Madrigal, of course, was embodied by Olympia Dukakis, and she is as inseparable from that role as Maggie Smith is from Downton’s Lady Violet. They both are formidable family matriarchs. And that’s my point. Both the Tales of the City series and Downton Abbey are family sagas with all the inherent drama, conflict and reconciliation as the years go by.

Anna, since her bohemian landlady days at 28 Barbary Lane, has presided over her “logical” — as opposed to biological — family with humor, grace and the ability to keep a secret.  Her own secrets have come out over the course of the books, and now, at 92, she still has a few more. These are revealed gradually in the new novel, which, while not exactly a stroll down memory lane, is still something of an episodic ramble. Flashbacks to Anna’s 1930s childhood in Winnemucca, Nev., when she was Andy Ramsey, son of the local brothel owner, are interspersed with current events as a sojourn to Burning Man by the other returning characters (Michael and husband Ben, Anna’s young roommate Jake, Brian’s daughter Shawna) coincides with Anna’s road trip with Brian and his new love to Winnemucca via Winnebago.

People, places and happenings are closely observed, from the familiar  in San Francisco to the strange in the desert of Burning Man, where bi-sexual Shawna is determined to conceive a child and where Mary Ann shows up in the first-aid tent. Meanwhile, Anna is searching out old landmarks in Winnemucca, where a family fun park becomes the site of an unexpected reunion and a neatly foreshadowed surprise.

Despite a few laugh-aloud set pieces and its overall wit, The Days of Anna Madrigal casts a bittersweet spell. As a friend noted, it’s sadly satisfying. Finishing it reminded me how much I’ve enjoyed the series and fow how long, as I noted in my blog post on Mary Anne in Autumn, https://patebooks.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/friending-mary-ann/

Now the tales have ended. Hail and farewell.

Read Full Post »

I would so friend Mary Ann Singleton if she really were on Facebook. She was always one of my favorite characters in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City novels, and I loved how Laura Linney played her as the naive newcomer to 1970s San Francisco  in the miniseries.

Maupin dedicates Mary Ann in Autumn to Linney, and it’s so easy to see her now as a young-looking  57 returning to San Francisco after 20 years away, realizing once again that your friends can be your family. She’s been hurt and humiliated by her wealthy second husband, and she needs to share some unsettling news with friend, Mouse, aka Michael Tolliver.  They’ve been BFFs since before anyone ever used such an expression, back when they lived at 28 Barbary Lane, renting from enigmatic Anna Madrigal, and both were looking for Mr. Right.

So now Mary Ann takes refuge in Michael and his partner Ben’s garden  cottage, although young Ben is initially wary. Like Jake, Michael’s transgendered assistant, he thinks Mary Ann is a drama queen, but, as Michael points out “she’s had some actual drama.” And that increases when Ben introduces her to Facebook, and Mary Ann, who thought the past had escaped her, begins reconnecting with “her lost wonderland” ands its quirky residents.

Unlike 2007’s first-person Michael Tolliver Lives!, which resurrected the original six-book series after almost 20 years,  Maupin returns to the multi-character perspectives and plots that served him well when Tales began as a newspaper serial. He then cleverly  interlocks the charming chapter set pieces — Ben chatting at the dog park, Mary Ann’s estranged adopted daughter Shawna befriending an angry homeless woman, Jake tending to the increasingly frail Anna Madrigal — as if completing a jigsaw puzzle, even as he moves the narrative forward. Readers may well guess at what overall picture will emerge, but that doesn’t take away from his winsome portrait of Mary Ann, Michael and the others facing age and change, regret and redemption. San Francisco, now and then, may be the setting, but Maupin shows his true territory is what he calls “the gender neutrality of the human heart.”  

Open Book: I missed a recent high school reunion but have enjoyed catching up with old friends on Facebook. Reading Armistead Maupin’s Mary Ann in Autumn (Harper), which I bought in hardcover for my Tales of the City collection, is like the best Facebook status update ever.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: