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Friday, August 20, 2010

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, 1976, * * * *

Maupin's tale of a newcomer to San Francisco, the naive and reserved Mary Ann Singleton, and her misadventures with the residents of Barbary Lane (Mrs. Madrigal, the gay and proud Michael, the liberated Mona, etc.) is the stuff of Dickens' serials, brought to the 1970s in a flash of humor, adventure and out-and-out 1970s wackiness. First appearing as a serial in the San Francisco Chronicle in the late 1970s, this six-volume collection provides a vivid flashback to that city and that time. Indeed, the series was written at a time when San Francisco's sense of itself and its community had not yet been swallowed by the consumerism of the 80s and 90s, and into the Dot-com economic revolution that eventually evaporated. Maupin, instead, takes you into an intensely tight-knit circle of friends and neighbors at Barbary Lane (the real Macondray Lane) on the slope of Russian Hill. There is a glimpse into gay life in the city in the pre-AIDS era. Maupin's writing is light and funny, self-referential and self-deprecating. I have read and re-read and re-re-read the entire series over and over again and have never failed to be entertained by the characters or the situations they find themselves in.   Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City has blazed a singular trail through popular culture  - from a groundbreaking newspaper serial to a classic novel to a television miniseries on both PBS and Showtime that entranced millions.  Tales of the City is both a wry comedy of manners and a deeply moving portrait of a vanished era.

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