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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
on 22 September 2007
The other reviewers are right - this definitely is not a Tales of the City book. In terms of structure it is much, much closer to Maupin's later works "Maybe The Moon" and "The Night Listener".
I say this because unlike the other Tales books there is a single narrative, instead of a collection of sub-stories going on all at once. Personally, I enjoyed this book, but then I also enjoyed the two books mentioned above. Yes, I missed the excitement of following several intertwining stories that I so enjoyed in the earlier Tales books, but it does a pretty good job of holding its own.
There are some downsides to it - about three quarters of the way through you get a lot of rushed, un-necessary run-downs on what the old characters are up to now, which just seems shallow and detrimental to the novel as a whole, as well-loved characters from earlier titles are just brought up without adding to the story in the slightest. Maupin also repeated the unthinkable and killed off a much-loved character "off-screen", just like he did between Further Tales and Babycakes. I won't say who or how as that would take away from reading it, but it bothers me that he can be so blasé in killing off characters we all liked without even chronicling it properly in one of the stories.
Other than these shortcomings, it's still a good read and Maupin still has a great way with words. The story has plenty of Anna Madrigal in it which is never a bad thing, and Michael's biological family are portrayed well and have a good storyline. There are some likeable new characters such as Ben and Jake who the reader could easily warm to just as much as we did with the old characters if Maupin decides to continue the series in the future.
In summary, no it's not a Tales book, and no it's not Maupin's finest hour. But it is thoroughly readable and a welcome return from some of the characters so well-loved the first time around. I'd give it three-and-a-half stars if that were possible, but as it's not I'll give it four.
on 17 October 2015
I really enjoyed this book.. Yes, it's quite different from the other tales of the city, however, for most readers the last books hold a degree of nostalgia. Whereas this book is happening in the now.
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.
on 4 April 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed the Tales of the City series and I was looking forward to catching up with the characters and what had happened in their lives. But you need more than just fond memories to make a book - you also need a story, but this book was so slight and inconsequential that I wondered why did he bother putting out a sequel. Nothing really happens of any interest. Mini episodes of no consequence are put in (Brian looking for the cave) for no reason - and I ended up skimming some of them. The story of his brother and sister in law's argument seemed far fetched and unlikely - even allowing for Tales of the City liberties. The constant emphasis on how happy he was with his younger husband and how devoted his younger husband was to him started to grate after a while - ok I get it he has a younger husband!
The joy and levity of the first six books was sadly missing, with messages being pummelled home ad nauseum - and did you know his younger husband has the hots for him!
However having read all the Tales of the City books in the past few months I will read his remaining two follow up books to complete the set. I hope they are a significant improvement on this.
on 12 February 2016
Four stars because I had spent the week picking up and discarding classic novels and modern prize-winning novels which weigh you down with their turgid prose, and then found this, and was reminded of the gift some authors have for writing so clearly, simply and engagingly that you are whisked along with no effort.
Very few fiction writers do this for me: Roald Dahl is the master of the direct style, but Maupin comes a close second.
Not five stars because, as an out gay man myself, I get a bit tired of Maupin's bitterness towards the straight conservative world from which he came. Hey, Armistead, so your mother never accepted you completely - well, neither did mine, and I understood why and accepted her without whingeing about it.
Almost only three stars because, whilst I found the romance touching and charming, I admire writers in inverse proportion to their need to scatter the text with swear words and descriptions of body parts and sex toys.
Not a book for you unless you have read the rest of the series, because the overtly sentimental final section will mean nothing unless you know the history.