Hello, old friend.
If you’re a fan of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series, it’s impossible to pick up his new book, Michael Tolliver Lives, and not be torn between tearing through the pages to see what happens next and dreading what is actually contained inside. It’s been 18 years since we last left the oddball family of Barbary Lane. That’s a long time. Will we still remember them? Will they even still be alive? More importantly, will Maupin’s world still sparkle with magic?
For generations of men, discovering Tales of the City was like finding water in the middle of a vast heterosexual desert. Sadly, the nostalgic sigh and excitement Maupin’s new volume incites in many fans elicits blank stares from so many of the MySpace generation who grew up with Will & Grace and Queer as Folk. As our beloved Mouse says, ”What is happening to queers?”
Months ago, Maupin caused many an eyebrow to raise when he asserted that Michael Tolliver Lives was not a seventh volume in the Tales series. How could a story featuring Mouse not be Book Seven? It only takes one chapter, however, to understand what Maupin was saying.
Gone are the quick chapters that characterized the serial nature of the previous stories and gone are the vast array of colorful characters. Now it’s Michael’s story, told in his voice as if you bumped into him on the street and decided to grab a cup of coffee and catch up on the old times. He uses the phrase, ”as you know,” over and over when referencing the past, a subtle hint designed to drudge up memories now nearly two decades old.
So what has happened to our friend over the past 18 years? Michael has become a content, settled man in his 50s who, instead of winning underwear contests watches movies from Netflix; instead of cruising down Castro Street in roller skates on Halloween, he’s driving a Prius; and instead of looking for Mr. Right Now, he and his husband celebrate the fact that they were married at City Hall during that brief moment of marriage equality in San Francisco.
Given Michael’s HIV status in 1991, it was safe to assume that he hadn’t lived long past the end of the final Tales book, Sure of You. However, true with the times, Michael was given the reprieve that so many found in the new drug cocktails. And that reprieve allowed him to find the love that eluded him for so long in Ben, who ”is twenty-one years younger than I am — an entire adult younger, if you insist on looking at it that way.” Repeated denials that the age difference between the two is any sort of problem bring to mind the adage, ”The lady doth protest too much.” This point sharpens when you learn that Michael and Ben’s story closely mirrors Maupin’s own relationship with his younger husband.
In addition to his relationship with Ben, most of Michael’s story centers around his dying mother and the decades of baggage that exist between them, dating back to Anita Byrant’s campaign against the homosexuals. Traveling home to Florida and encountering everything from evangelical puppets, gay nephews and threesomes with hairdressers, we see glimpses of the same impulsive and slightly lost Mouse underneath the layers of time.
|MICHAEL TOLLIVER LIVES
by Armistead Maupin
Maupin borders on preachy at times, getting in his potshots at both Bush sons — George for the war and Jeb for Terri Schiavo — Christina Aguilera, and the Promise Keepers. He also rambles, weaving in and out of storylines like a drunken driver. It adds to the vocal nature of the book, but also makes you feel like Maupin has been collecting anecdotes on scraps of paper for 18 years and finally found a use for them.
For fans of the original Tales of the City, Michael Tolliver Lives is a must-read. Those hoping to jump to the end of the series and start with this book will no doubt wonder what all the buzz is about. Michael Tolliver Lives is an epilogue, one last chance to share time with a former acquaintance that you know you won’t see again. But you can part knowing that he has found comfort and closure, much like the closure that Maupin provides for his fans of the series. Mouse is happy, and that’s all we need to know as we say, ”Goodbye, old friend.”