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Age catches up with Tolliver and Maupin

Mon 17 Sep 2007 In: Books View at Wayback View at NDHA

Review: Michael Tolliver Lives, by Armistead Maupin Michael Tolliver is no longer in the first, or even second, bloom of life. In fact, one of Armistead Maupin's most-loved characters is feeling his age, in fiction and in reality. Book after book, adventure after adventure, Michael was the vulnerable man-child whose journey through life and self discovery gave most gay men a reference point in Maupin's epic Tales of the City series. But to my mind the series' backbone, even in those books which only featured her as a background character, was always Mrs Madrigal. Semi-mystic, world-weary, and somehow always one step ahead of everyone else, if only because she had trudged up those steps long before and with fewer friends to guide her, Anna Madrigal's presence reassured everyone as Michael and his friends weaved their way through the sexual and social maze of 80s and 90s San Francisco. In Maupin's latest book, Michael Tolliver Lives, that dynamic has changed. Mrs Madrigal is now a frail, but game, old gal and Michael, though older, is still searching - and sometimes finding - himself. The cute young thing now has a cute, young, much younger, lover. He might even have blossomed as a mature character but for the author's decision to write this book in the first person, Michael's person. Somehow the potent Maupin mix of sharpness and laconic observation doesn't survive the Tolliver filter. Michael Tolliver Lives is a good read alright, but not the compelling read that Tales of The City managed to be book after book, installment after installment. It feels distinctly middle-aged or older, slower paced, with fewer surprises, less drama, quieter passions. As such it probably reflects its author, its probable readership, and the less turbulent times in which gays in urban communities such as San Francisco's Castro district, and parts of New Zealand, live. The gays who came of age in the early hysteria of HIV and on the tail end of the sexual revolution are older, wiser, paunchier. And more settled, or wanting to be. Michael Tolliver Lives picks up where Tales of the City left off some years ago, but it feels less like a pick up and more like a wrap up. Tales fans will doubtless enjoy the sense of completion it conveys, but it's hard to see it winning Maupin any new devotees. Which is a shame, because he's been such a spot-on writer. Jay Bennie - 17th September 2007    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Monday, 17th September 2007 - 2:22pm

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