Like a reunion, it’s comforting but reminds us of mortality
|The Set for Tales of the City on PBS|
I stayed up until 2 a.m. reading just one more chapter. The books were like cookies because they were written in short bites with a small circle of compelling characters that interacted with one another in familiar, surprising, and sometimes shocking ways. Maupin never introduced even a tertiary character for a casual reason; each of them functioned as a plot device and the coincidences were sometimes surprising, while other times they seemed to be forced. I think I tore through the series in about three weeks and I am a slow, thorough reader.
Citybeat published a continuing fiction column and, thankfully, cut back one page from its exhaustive coverage of the music scene. Oh well, we can always wish. They made Maupin’s reputation internationally, though critics always felt the need to emphasize their importance and in a couple of instances he was compared to Dickens and Balzac. Sure, the saga presents the San Francisco and its Age of Aquarius half-life during the hedonistic ‘70s and the acquisitive ‘80s, but it doesn’t move literature into a new direction as those supposed forebears did. However, there’s a spirit of joy in the characters finding friends and family and returning to them as a reader. That’s the main attraction, rather than the misplaced notion that they’re somehow emotionally deep or stylistically innovative.
Mary Ann in Autumn (2010) is the eighth book. I didn’t read Michael Tolliver Lives (2007) because I’d enjoyed Maupin’s post-Tales novels and it felt like a step backward. Plus, the ironically titled Sure of You (1989) brought the series to a jolting, but definite, conclusion. I saw Mary Ann in the sale rack in Barnes & Noble and thought, ‘oh why not?’ Like the first two Tales especiallly, it has a discrete plot that’s much tighter than it initially appears, though it relies on narrative serendipity (i.e. almost unbelievable coincidence) to a degree that delights, but undercuts its naturalism. There are a couple of newer, younger characters that add some zest and emotional surprise to the proceedings.
|Anna (Olympia Dukakis) with Dexter in the Garden|