Reading a “Tales of the City” book is like eating your favourite home cooked meal – it’s easily devoured, much loved and prepared with care. And so it is with “Mary Ann In Autumn”, the eighth in the series concerning an eclectic group of ‘Friscans and the city that nourishes them.
Set in 2008, the story sees Mary Ann, a former TV personality, returning to San Francisco, the city she moved to as a wide-eyed Midwest young lady in the ‘70s and left in the late ‘80s as a worldly woman, leaving behind a husband and an adopted daughter. Having just witnessed via her computer her current husband fornicating with her life coach! and being diagnosed with uterine cancer, she is drawn back to her true family and the city of her youth that she loved. Mary Ann turns up on the door step of Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, 55, gay and her former best friend, seeking an escape from her life. The novel continues the relationship between Michael and his husband Ben, a woodcrafter 20 years his junior. Theirs is a seemingly perfect bond and Maupin’s handling of the question of infidelity in their relationship is touching.
Most of the best characters from the earlier novels are here, including Anna Madrigal, who at 85 is still godmother to anyone in need. Mary Ann’s daughter, Shawna, who writes an internet blog about anything to do with sex, has probably the weakest storyline. She has a premonition that she needs to help a heroin addicted homeless woman, but the coincidences this entails are just too unbelievable. Maupin’s stories always involve storylines coming together through some connection, but this one involving the homeless woman is pushed too far.
Providing a welcome breath of fresh air is a new character, Jake, a female to male transgendered gay 20-something, who works with Michael in his gardening business. Jake lives with Anna, a male to female transgendered woman, who has been there and done that, and provides motherly guidance for the young man who’s still finding his feet in the city. Like Mary Ann, Jake is planning removal of his uterus, to physically complete his transition. While Mary Ann’s removal is one of anguish and uncertainty, Jake’s is one of joy and celebration, and Maupin contrasts these two different perspectives beautifully.
While Maupin’s conversational language for the youngsters in the book may not always ring true (did anyone still say “Word” in 2008) and his massive overuse of the word husband (we get it already – you support gay marriage and you’ve got a husband in real life) to describe Michael and Ben gets annoying, his wit and love for his characters will win you over.
For those familiar with Maupin’s stories, this book will seem as comfortable and natural as breathing, and for those new to his writing, there’s plenty here to inspire you to read the earlier books. For in the end it is the city and the tales it knows that will draw you back in.