Book Review: Armistead Maupin’s Mary Ann in Autumn

Mary Ann in AutumnMary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the original Tales of the City series. As a much younger man, they made me imagine San Francisco, and what it might be like to live there. They were melodramatic and schmaltzy but that was the whole point: originally started as a serialised newspaper column, these short stories were meant to hook you in and wait for the next installment. This eighth volume of the series, from 2010 (the first was published in 1978), does retain some of the charm of the earlier books and the same quick pace and some of his descriptions of San Francisco struck me as beautiful and hit me with nostalgia for the earlier books. The stories combines a sort of topical review of queer San Franciscan concerns—the age difference between Michael and Ben (which obviously mirrors Maupin’s own relationship), Jake’s decisions on being a trans man, and more—with familiar melodrama, actually tying up a previous story from the series, which was a clever gift to fans. With the focus on Mary Ann, I felt I should have felt more sorry for her than I did: an impending divorce, cancer, a broken relationship with her daughter. But I felt a bit distant, reading this ‘Tales of the City’ book in middle age, that the writing had a few too many explanatory details (penile injection! Mormon underwear! appendix extraction with hysterectomies) and the world portrayed was no long as exciting and enticing as it was when I was young. The book is also so lightweight and quickly read that I’d forgotten that I’d read it before, until I was well into the book. I must have borrowed it from someone and forgot about it before stumbling on another copy. As other review on goodreads have said, this one’s for fans. I don’t think it would be very engaging without having read the rest of the series but if you have, you will feel affection and nostalgia for the characters that we fell in love with.

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