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palmettodoveThis was going to be a different post when I started writing it last week. It was called “Summer Lowdown,” and it was about how I was homesick for the South Carolina Lowcountry — family, friends, food — after reading four beach books set in my favorite part of the world. But that was before nine people were shot in a downtown Charleston church, leaving me heartsick that such a hate crime could happen in this day and age in the United States, especially in a city I hold dear.

Many people have written many things about Charleston in the week since the tragedy, and I’ve read news accounts, blog posts, editorials and essays in an attempt at understanding. I’ve heard the powerful words of forgiveness from the victims’ families. I’ve talked with friends who are as surprised and saddened as I am about the ignorance and racial antagonism still showing up on social media. I grew up in the Carolinas and have lived in the South most of my life. My grandmother told me how her mother remembered being a child and her daddy — my great-great grandfather — coming home from the Civil War, walking down the dirt road to their lowcountry farm. I went to college with classmates who had Confederate flag beach towels.

I’m not posting the reviews of the four books today. They’re all good escapist fiction, and I’ll wrap them up with other summer reading picks in the weeks ahead. But if you want something good to read and think about, I’ll make two recommendations. One is something Josephine Humphreys wrote about growing up in the segregated South and posted to Facebook last night. You can use this link to where I shared it on my timeline: Charleston

Humphreys writes about what changed her. To Kill a Mockingbird started the change in me. My aunt gave me Harper Lee’s novel when I was in the fifth grade, and it’s been a favorite ever since, read so many times I know passages by heart. I was planning on a reread before Go Set a Watchman comes out next month. I think I’ll start now.

 

 

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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.

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