I can’t remember what first drew me to Armistead Maupin and his fantastic “Tales of the City” novels. What I do know, is that they were unlike anything else I had ever read. I guess it must have been around 1990, that I first entered the amazing world that he created; now I’m just about to start the ninth and final book in the series. Sounds like it will be time to say goodbye to the characters I have got to know so well over such a long period of time.
The books were instantly addictive. Originally published as a series in the San Francisco Chronicle; the early books in the sequence have insanely short chapters. They really are dangerous books to read at night, if you have any wish to put your book down and go to sleep at some sort of reasonable hour. Every time you think, “just one more chapter”, you would read it look ahead and think, “only a page, that won’t take long” and before you knew what was going on, it was 2:30 AM.
Of course the fact that you had to read the next page was all down to the amazing skill of Armistead Maupin. The cast he created was wide ranging, in fact has there ever been a more wide ranging cast? Every strand of life appears to be represented and yet they all have a truth and strength to them. From the outrageous to the appalling, the stoic to the misguided, the hopeful to hopeless. Their lives weave together to present the most amazing patchwork of American life.
There is a little of everything in the books, the search for love, gripping mystery, religious fanaticism, sexual and religious politics. They are often profoundly moving and stupidly funny within a page or so. Some of the plots are beautifully ludicrous, other just deal simply with the day to business of how to be a good person in a confusing world.
We were fortunate to hear Armistead Maupin talk at The Watershed, here in Bristol when he was promoting one of his “Non Tales” books – “Maybe The Moon” back in around 1993. He was charming and humble, just exactly the way you hoped he would be. He is a very important figure to many people and hope that although Anna Madrigal and her friends won’t have any new surprises for us, he will still provide us some literary treats in the future.