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on 15 February 2010
I was overjoyed to see Maupin had brought out something to bring the Barberry Lane crowd up to date. I so looked forward to relaxing with the familiar prose and slipping into its world as if meeting up with an old friend I hadn't seen in years. So it is with huge regret that I cannot report that this was any great trip down memory lane. First of all, the book is all but in large print in a cheap effort to pad out its pages in an attempt to distract you from the fact it is no more than a novella in length. Secondly, the Barberry Lane crowd has little more than a passing mention, set aside to focus on Mouse's relationship with his new partner. I also found the book bludgeoned any points it was trying to make, shouting at the converted and overdoing the stock religious character type.
It was an enjoyable enough read, but I think Maupin has missed completely what his fans were looking for. I also felt a little cheated by its paltry length. No sooner was I opening the book than I was finishing its last page.
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on 16 July 2007
This book gets three stars - mainly because it takes us back to San Francisco, to familar faces and lets us catch up with old friends. I think that's how this book shoudl be viewed, and nothing more. On it's own, it is not a masterpiece, there is no earth shattering storyline, but it throws you enough nice surprises to keep TOTC fans happy. My problem with the book is simple - it is obsessed by the fact that Michael and Ben have an age gap. I don't really care - Armistead Maupin (who has a real life younger husband) obviously does. Finally, the sex scene is uncecessary, the first six books did not need graphic sex scenes so why does this one? I do look forward to more, as I enjoyed catching up with my old friends, but I hope they are not all written from Michael's point of view, as you get the impression you are hearing Maupin's views, thoughts and ideas rather than those of one of the series' most beloved characters.
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on 23 June 2008
How we'ver missed both Mr Maupin's writing and his wonderful creation, Michael "Mouse" Tolliver! A return to form made me quickly realise the strengths in Armistead Maupin's writing: the quirky scenarios, the real characters of every human hue except "normal" - whatever that is - the laid back, humourous style and the simple laugh out loud one liners sneaked into the dialogue here and there. Mr Tolliver is now older and more thoughtful, but still retains his values, beliefs and unique style, surrounding himself with real friends, a new partner - and all their problems - to support him through life, and challenging the American perspective that family is everything. In fact Michael's family is a bit of a nightmare and he's successfully managed to move on from them. There are also overt challenges to the loony-fringe christian elements, a helpful different perspective in my view given their damaging influence on US politics. Utterly readable and frank, I do hope Mr Maupin allows us to share more of Michael Tolliver growing old disgracefully!
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on 9 January 2008
Maupin's return to his most well known creations, the characters fleshed out in the "Tales of The City" sextet, is a little bittersweet to say the least. Like old friends visiting after many years - it's great to see them, but you wonder if you feel the same way about them. I approached "Michael Tolliver Lives" with a little of this apprehension, and for the most part it was unwarranted. Yet, by the end, I felt as if I hadn't quite read another addition to the "Tales of the City" collection, but a stand alone novel, slightly disconnected from the universe the reader knows and loves. Maybe that's what Maupin was aiming for - if so it certainly succeeded.

The focus of this book is Michael 'Mouse' Tolliver, as if the title doesn't give this away. Living with getting older and coping with HIV, Mouse's life has taken an unexpected turn - despite the predictions, he's still alive. Even more importantly, he's in love. Unlike the "prequels", Maupin gives Mouse the narrative reins here, and the book both benefits and suffers from that. It is much more personal, and intimate a story with added focus on Mouse's family matters and his new partner, Ben. Maupin weaves a rich tapestry of plot points as is usual in the series. However the down side of this is that those who seek a continuation of "Tales" may be disappointed by how their favourite characters are represented in this book, but the moments where these characters do appear gives a nice sense of completeness to the proceedings.

The relentless control of the narrative that Maupin has ceded to Michael means that some long-term characters seem to be mere after-thoughts, and even those which feature heavily such as Brian don't seem to have depth or importance to the plot, possibly due to a little too much emphasis being placed on characters such as Ben. Maupin, however, excels as always at introducing some new characters and making us feel like we've known them for years within minutes of reading about them and this again helps us connect this latest installment to its predecessors.

All in all, I heartily recommend Michael Tolliver Lives. For those who haven't read the "Tales of the City" series, the book is still open and accessible as a stand alone work about love, life and learning to appreciate the smaller things and those who are close to us. For those, like me, who are longer term acquaintances of the characters it is a welcome return of old friends, no matter what the small flaws may be inherent within it. A recommended read for both types of readers.
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In my eyes Armistead Maupin can do no wrong. Or so I thought. I have loved his Tales of The City books and come back to them over and over as classics and favourites. However, delighted as I was when I saw a sequel had been written, I couldn't help feeling a few things were different. Obviously the single first person narrative is a chnage from the multi stranded stories in TOTC but that needn't necessarily detract from the book. I think what made me ever so slightly uncomfortable was, dare I say it, what can only be described as self indulgence. There felt to me as if there was more author than character in Michael Tolliver at times. There was far too much detail about his marriage. I know that sounds odd, this being about a happily married man and that man being the main protaginist, but bear with me. I just found the sex scene a little too much to bear, as if I was watching when I shouldn't have been. I am no prude, otherwise why would I be such a fan of TOTC? I just felt like it was an intimacy I didn't need to share quite so graphically and in quite so much depth. After all, I get that they are happily married. I got it long before the sex scene. My friends know I am happily married, but I don't give them a long and detailed account of our sex life.

The other thing that bothered me slightly was the heavy handedness in which Maupin makes his points. In the book, Michael argues with his fundamendal Christian brother and sister in law. Whilst I agree with his points of pro-tolerance and his anti-hypocrisy stance, it sounded a bit preachy. After all, it is doubtful that this book is being read by intolerant religious fundamentalists. Its preaching to the converted.

I also felt that I wanted more detail about all the Barbary Lane crew, rather than skimming in a handful of paragraphs over halfway in. I was thrilled there were lots of Mrs Madrigal scenes though, and touched by the scenes between Brian and his daughter. Once again, the descriptions of San Francisco are like a poetic love letter, and the city is very much a character itself.

Not much happens, but not much needs to, if you are a fan like me, you just like being immersed in the TOTC world as you are in this book. Overall, I loved the company of these much loved characters, but felt it was almost an autobiography (we know AM has a a younger husband- does he need to keep talking about it through his novel?), and the arguments, though valid, were stodgy and heavy handed. There is still a vein of humour and lightness throughout though, and overall, I did enjoy reading it. Like life itself, everyone is older, wiser and sadder, but still essentially, themselves and making the best of this bittersweet life.
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VINE VOICEon 29 July 2008
Fans of Armistead Maupin's 'Tales of the City' will be eager to find out what became of Michael Tolliver and the rest of the crazy characters from San Francisco. This book is quite a departure from the TotC series because it is written in the first person and therefore we really hear Michael's voice for the first time (although to be honest I wasn't sure if I was hearing Michael's voice, or just the author's, since their lives seem to share many similarities). Furthermore this book is mostly about Michael - there are just brief updates on the others (only Anna, Brian and Shawna play much of a part). Nevertheless this is an easy, fun read, outrageously rude in places and absolutely hilarious in others. If you haven't read any of the Tales of the City series, you're better off starting with those (and you're in for a treat).
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on 15 August 2007
In Michael Tolliver Lives, Armistead Maupin once again exhibits his love for the beloved characters made so famous in his highly successful Tales of the City series. The good news is that you don't have to have read any of the previous novels to appreciate this melancholic and deeply reflective ode to the life and loves of the fifty-five-year old HIV positive Michael Tolliver.

Now middle aged, Michael is still living in his beloved "gayberry," of San Fransico, a city that has provided such a colourful backdrop to much of his life. Indeed, Michael has been enjoying a comfortable urban life, one he once believed was almost unachievable. One of the few men of his generation who cheated death, Michael can barely turn around without gazing into the strangely familiar features of someone long believed dead walking the lines at the local supermarket or on the streets of the Castro district.

Lately, Michael has even had a chance at love, an opportunity for a relationship with Ben, a much younger man, thanks to the connection of his friends, especially his kindly surrogate mother, Anna Madrigal. Employed by a South of Market furniture designer, Ben appears in Michael's life almost out of the blue, from an Internet web site for men in their twenties and thirties who are specifically looking for partners over the age of forty-five.

Like somone from another century, "a stalwart captured on daguerreaotype," Ben immediately captures Michael with his casual masculinity and his tenderness of heart. They even find time to get marriaged when the Mayor of San Fransicso allows such nuptuals to take place at City Hall. Together they waited in the long line with the rest of those middle-aged people some of them with kids in tow, "waiting to affirm what they'd already known for years."

Meeting Ben, however, is not the only sudden shift that occurs in Michael's life. When Irwin, his brother calls from Orlando, informing him their mother is dying of emphasemia, Michael dutyfully returns to the fold, taking Ben with him. Once a virtual stranger in the scheme of things, over the years a subtle shift has occurred Michael's relationship with his mother.

Although a god-fearing woman, and a Christian fundamentalist, whom Irwin once hauled to the polls - oxygen tank and all - so she could vote for Bush one more time, his mother has somewhat sofened on her stance regarding Michael's homosexuality. Intead, it is Lenore, Irwin's wife who is left to hold the biblical fort, tending to their Moma ever since Papa died, while also teaching Children's bible study and doing her Jesus puppet ministry with their seven-year-old grandson who is probably going to turn out to be a "nancy boy" anyway.

This is a time for forgiveness and also for goodbyes as Michael becomes the new confidante for his Mother, as she seeks to act our her final wishes. Meanwhile, Irwin hides behind the growing problems of his own marriage as he realizes he's somewhat resigned to spending the rest of his days with his "McMansion and his Personal Savior."

When he's not detailing Michael's escapes in Orlando, the author perfectly captures in this world of the San Fransisco gay community, and the various people that have orbited Michael Tolliver's world over the past thirty years. Some of the characters from the previous novels make a welcome appearance, including Mary Ann, who now lives a life of priviledge from her house in Darien Connecticut and Michael's best friend Brian "twenty pounds heavier with his sandpaper beard."

Brian's daughter Shawna is now a fully grown woman, sexually free and liberated, content to "diddle herself in a plywood cubicle," and Jake Greenleaf, Michael's sometime assistant, a short stocky bear of thirty or thereabouts with a trim little beard and soulful gray eyes, is a willing friend who finds a sort of spiritual grandmother in Anna, someone who understands him without effort or condescension.

Maupin beautifully infuses Michael's mid-life experiences with a type of gentle humor a fragile irony as he is forced to forced to come to terms with middle-aged anxiety, the demands of his extended family, and his need to be loved, " if the virus doesn't claim me, then old age will start playing dirty soon enough." Obviously for Michael, life hasn't been perfect, but it has been his life, tailored to his dreams, and safely lived beyond the reach of God's terrible sword. Mike Leonard August 07.
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on 5 June 2009
Like most people, I loved Tales of the City but, for some reason, I missed this book when it first came out a couple of years ago. I stumbled across it a few days ago and I'm glad I did.

The first person narrative makes the book feel like a conversation with an old friend. I smiled through most of the pages, enjoying "catching up" with Michael.

As mentioned by other reviewers, it is a bit over the top in some ways but, if you love Tales of the City, you'll probably love this book. It's not perfect but it's a nice, easy read. Take it to the beach or read it on the plane.
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on 5 June 2009
Like most people, I loved Tales of the City but, for some reason, I missed this book when it first came out a couple of years ago. I stumbled across it a few days ago and I'm glad I did.

The first person narrative makes the book feel like a conversation with an old friend. I smiled through most of the pages, enjoying "catching up" with Michael.

As mentioned by other reviewers, it is a bit over the top in some ways but, if you love Tales of the City, you'll probably love this book. It's not perfect but it's a nice, easy read. Take it to the beach or read it on the plane.
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on 16 July 2014
The thing I loved about the Tales Of The City series was how Maupin had a cast of characters that covered the whole spectrum of sexuality, gay, straight, lesbian, trans etc. and via the gift of his beautiful writing it is evident that the problems we face through life are universal. Maupin shows there is more common ground than difference within humanity. I also found the books educational and revealing, the impact of HIV and AIDS was introduced to me for the first time from a Maupin book . Another example would be in the fourth book, 'Babycakes', when Michael explains how his relationship with his physician lover John had settled into sexless domesticity yet they were still undoubtedly a couple in both of their eyes. I could not get my head around this and actually found the revelation rather sad but life experience has given me an understanding of this common situation within gay relationships. These are but two reasons why I think Maupin is a very wise man continually in touch with the zeitgeist although in a more 'personal' way than a writer like Douglas Coupland.

So a good few years have passed and the series returns with 'Michael Tolliver Lives', which is more of a straightforward story than previous books. Yet again Maupin shows how in touch he is with the zeitgeist, focussing on the long term survival of AIDS victims and the age difference between partners in gay relationships, a phenomena that is becoming increasingly evident within gay culture. Michael is alive and well thanks to combination therapy and has found himself a devoted (much) younger lover in the Ben character. We get to meet more of Michael's family when he and Ben take a trip back to Michael's home town. Big revelations follow, however you must read the book for yourselves to discover what those revelations are.

There are some new characters, Jake is particularly loveable and is introduced as a man some time before it is revealed he was born female. As we are told the truth of his gender after getting to know him it is easier to accept him as a 'man', a similar trick pulled in the past with the Anna Madrigal character who is thankfully still around. In all this is a very enjoyable, easy read but seems to just fall short of the standard of his previous works. It is certainly good enough to delight fans of the series and there are some open ended plots which hint at further books to come.
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