The Days of Anna Madrigal (Tales of the City Series #9)

By Armistead Maupin

(HarperCollins, $26.99, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

When Armistead Maupin began publishing his “Tales of the City” series in 1976 in the San Francisco Chronicle, it’s doubtful that he, or anyone else, could have foretold the success of this ongoing story of a virtual family of gay and straight people living at 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco’s Russian Hill with their unusual landlady, Anna Madrigal. Or that a few decades later, same-sex marriage would be happening across the country and transgender people would be increasingly accepted.  But happen it did, and Maupin was a groundbreaker. He went on to write many “Tales of the City” novels, along with several others, and now he has written the ninth and final “Tale.” The series has been adapted in a musical version and also as three TV miniseries for PBS and Showtime.

Maupin, by the way, is a Navy vet who served in the Vietnam War and once worked for right-wing senator Jesse Helms. He is now married to photographer Christopher Turner, and spends time in San Francisco and New Mexico.

What is this book about?

Anna Madrigal, the lively and mysterious landlady of Barbary Lane, is 92 in this book, which concludes the series. Still beloved by her many tenants, who have been like sons and daughters to her for almost 40 years, she wants to revisit the Nevada brothel where she lived as a boy, before the profound life changes that made her who she is now. So while other “family” prepare to attend the Burning Man Festival in Nevada, Anna and her former tenant, Brian, head back into her past, in hopes of achieving resolution to her very complicated past.

Why you’ll like it:

Maupin has the gift of creating heart-warming yet never mawkish stories about complex people who share the deep need to connect, often in unexpected ways. That he has managed to keep this series going successfully for nine novels over nearly 40 years is a testament to his talent. Fans of the series will appreciate his caring portrayal of Anna at the end of her days. Newcomers may want to start with the first novel and work their way through to this concluding book.

Here are some of Maupin’s thoughts about being a gay writer:

“I’ve always been proud of the fact that I’ve been openly gay longer than just about anybody writing today [...] but I never intended for that declaration to mean that I was narrowing my focus in any way, or joining a niche . . .

“It’s complicated. I don’t want to feel any less queer, but I think for us to march along in a dutiful little herd called ‘gay and lesbian literature’ and have little seminars that we hold together is pointless at this point, it makes no sense to me at all. [...] I cringe when I get ‘gay writer’ each time. Why the modifier? I’m a writer. It’s like calling Amy Tan a Chinese-American writer every time you mention her name, or Alice Walker a black writer. We’re all discussing the human condition. Some of us have revolutionized writing by bringing in subject-matter that nobody’s heard about before. But we don’t want that to narrow the definition of who we are as an artist. [...] I don’t mind being cross-shelved. I’m very proud of being in the gay and lesbian section, but I don’t want to be told that I can’t sit up in the front of the book store with the straight, white writers.”


What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “This ninth Tales of the City installment is Maupin’s farewell to his beloved cast of characters. While his last few books have highlighted San Francisco’s Michael “Mouse” Tolliver and Mary Ann Singleton, the author updates fans with 28 Barbary Lane’s now-92-year-old transgendered landlady, Anna Madrigal. Anna is given the snappy, plucky dialogue she’s known for, and some chapters reveal her backstory, including her 1930s childhood, when she was a boy named Andy. Everyone is on hand here: Brian, Mary Ann’s ex and father of her daughter Shawna, makes an appearance, accompanied by his “fiftyish and luscious” new wife Wren, a former plus-sized model, along with Mouse and Mary Ann. Maupin’s flare for dialogue and fully-realized, contemporary characterization is again on display, as he keeps things hip with the use of modern vernacular (“amazeballs”, “chillax”) and by incorporating iPads (Jake’s “magic slate”), Angry Birds, missives on Twitter, and hooking up on Facebook. The story culminates in the group’s attendance at the Burning Man “Fertility 2.0” festival, as Shawna searches for a sperm donor while Brian, Wren, and Anna detour off to Winnemucca for a revelatory reunion with Anna’s past. Limned with the comfort of unconditional love yet reflective of the frailty, the uncertainty, and the beauty of aging, this installment is a memorable, satisfying capstone to his series.”

“Time marches on for all of us, including the beloved characters of Maupin’s “Tales of the City” series. . . . In what Maupin says is the last of the series, Anna Madrigal is 92 and frail; Michael is sixtysomething and feeling much older than his husband, Ben; and the youngest characters are starting to settle down. Once again, the characters revolve around Anna, but so does the plot; we see her backstory as a 16-year-old boy, growing up in a Depression-era brothel as she just begins to understand her nature. Interestingly, most of the action occurs far away from the eponymous city. Instead, the gang goes desert road-tripping: Anna on a last pilgrimage to the past, while the others go to the Burning Man festival, where the spirit of old San Francisco still lives on in collective art, community service, and freewheeling sexuality. VERDICT For fans definitely, but anyone may enjoy the peek into Burning Man culture, as well as the intergenerational twining of the characters and seeing just how far we have come in accepting ourselves,” says Library Journal.

Kirkus Reviews says: “More “Tales of the City” with the former residents of 28 Barbary Ln. still fluttering around their erstwhile landlady. Anna Madrigal is now . . .  very frail, but she’s still got the gender-crossing panache that led her away from the whorehouse her mother ran in Winnemucca, Nev., and from the unwanted appendages associated with her youth as a boy named Andy. Having had one of the earliest sex-change operations in the U.S., Anna is a legend in the transgender community, and her young caretaker, Jake, has built a special float for her to ride at this year’s Burning Man festival to receive what everyone knows will probably be her final accolades. He is ultimately persuaded by others in their San Francisco circle that it’s too risky, and indeed, the closing chapters’ vivid depiction of the “mosh pit in the desert,” as Michael Tolliver calls Burning Man, makes it seem an unlikely place for an elderly lady. But while Michael, husband Ben, bisexual celebrity Shawna (who’s looking for a sperm donor) and many others are cavorting in the Nevada desert, Anna has unfinished business in not-too-far-away Winnemucca, to which she has persuaded Shawna’s father (and Michael’s close friend), Brian, and his new wife, Wren, to drive her in their air-conditioned RV. . . . Readers not up to speed on the series may have trouble sorting out all the relationships (and genders), but Maupin spins his usual good-hearted web of intrigues involving people who have created their own community. . .  Sweet, undemanding entertainment most suitable for longtime fans.

When is it available?

The Downtown Hartford Public Library has copies of Maupin’s new book.

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