Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin

I'm a long-standing admirer of Maupin's Tales of the City series, and his latest book continues the story of the band of friends and enemies linked to 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco.  Mary Ann Singleton returns from Connecticut to San Francisco, her second marriage in ruins, to confide this and other problems to her oldest friend, Michael Tolliver.  Michael is still working as a gardener and married (or not married, depending on the Californian legal position during the time the novel covers) to Ben, a much younger carpenter. Returning to San Francisco allows Mary Ann to rediscover other old friends: DeDe and D'orothea still live at Hillsborough but now have grandchildren; Anna Madrigal is the aged flatmate and mentor of transgender Jake; and Mary Ann's somewhat estranged adopted daughter Shawna is a well-known and fearlessly frank blogger.  Her reconnection to San Francisco will sustain Mary Ann through her various crises, but also force her to confront well-hidden aspects of her past.

Maupin, as usual, is incredibly skilled at drawing together what initially seems like a disparate set of people, and in this novel he has a lot of deft fun with various loose ends left in the earlier books.  His excellent characterisation allows the people in his novel to change and grow in ways that are consistent with their previous incarnations.  He also has the advantage of a ready-made younger generation of characters in  Shawna and her contemporaries, which prevents the novel becoming merely a heartwarming reunion of old friends; and, as usual, he is not afraid to explore the grimmer aspects of life in a city.  I devoured this book in a few hours on Boxing Day, and I'm already looking forward to reading it again.

The kind friend who gave me this went to hear Maupin read, and he was, inevitably, asked whether there would be more books in the series.  While he didn't rule it out, he did point out that he can't keep Anna Madrigal alive forever, and in fact I think he (or perhaps Anna herself) has sliced a few years off her age in this one. So there may be more to look forward to - but in the mean time all the Tales books are eminently re-readable.

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