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Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin is a period piece that celebrates life in mid-1970s San Francisco through the eyes of the diverse residents of 28 Barbary Lane and people with whom they come in contact. All of the characters are interconnected in a way that is almost soap operatic in its scope. Mrs. Madrigal, the landlady of 28 Barbary Lane, has been spending time with Edgar Halcyon. Mary Ann and Mona, two of the Barbary Lane residents, have Mr. Halcyon for a boss. At one point, Mary Ann has a weekend affair with Mr. Halcyon’s son-in-law, Beauchamp Day. Mouse’s boyfriend also knows Beauchamp. If you look closely at it, I don’t think that anyone is more than three degrees removed from Mrs. Madrigal in the whole story. That’s better than Kevin Bacon can say.

I first read this novel while living and working in Yosemite during the summer of 1995. I borrowed it from the tiny Yosemite Valley library. In some ways the Tales of the City soap opera reminded me of the one surrounding me in our small city of tent cabins. Years later, when I moved to the San Francisco bay area, I was amused to discover that some of the landmarks featured in the story were still around. I drove past the Marina Safeway and was tempted to go inside to see if it was still a “meat market” as well as a grocery store. I pass the infamous “End-up” dance club, site of the infamous Jockey shorts dance contest, every time I am in the city. From a selfish point of view, I should point out that this is the one book series that I discovered and read before my friend who loves edgy books encountered it. For once, I got to feel smug about knowing about something first. Perhaps some of my love of this book arises from that smugness. I wouldn’t be too surprised. But that isn’t the only reason that I like this book. The characters are well developed. They show you their pain and doubts. You end up pulling for them, hoping that everything works out in the end. It’s as though each character is a touchstone for a different kind of person, allowing you to live the story through the eyes of your chosen character, no matter where you are from.

Armistead Maupin’s controversial novel was made into a miniseries in 1993 that featured a stellar cast and was quite faithful to the book. It was fabulous and, like the book, so very much not for children. It is a story full of sex, drugs, and infidelity. It is a story of love, loss, and choosing your own identity. It is the story of a time before AIDS and after the Vietnam War. It is a tale of a much beloved city. Tales of the City.

(Armistead Maupin’s Website)
(Place a hold on the book)

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