by Armistead Maupin
Published by Harper
Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray
February 9, 2015.
Though I have read its successor in the Tales of the City series (The Days of Anna Madrigal, 2014), I had not read the 2010 Mary Ann in Autumn. Armistead Maupin ended the series in 1989 with Sure of You with Michael “Mouse” Tolliver HIV-infected and Mary Ann Singleton fleeing to the East Coast, leaving many readers dismayed.
The 2007 Michael Tolliver Lives was juiced by readers’ relief that Michael survived to the widespread introduction of protease inhibitors (in 1996) and was alive and healthy (if with a protease paunch, liked many long-term survivors). MTL was not officially part of the series, being narrated in the first person by Michael rather than third-person narration about multiple characters. Also, about half it was set in Orlando, Florida rather than The City (as San Franciscans insist on capitalizing it). (And seemingly more than half of The Days of Anna Madrigal is set in Nevada, past [Winnemucca] and present [Burning Man Festival]. So Mary Ann in Autumn: A Tales of the City Novel, which returns to third-person omniscient narration, is the only one of the three sequel volumes mostly set in San Francisco.)
There is, however, a weekend visit to the Sierras, where Michael and his younger (by two decades) lover Ben take Mary Ann before her hysterectomy. She has returned to old friends in the San Francisco Bay Area having watched her life coach fellate her husband on Skype and discovering she has uterine cancer.
There is also what neither she nor the reader realized was some unfinished business. Maupin weaves that into visits of Ben to a dog park in the Castro and to the curiosity about a sassy homeless woman by blogger Shawna (Anna’s grand-daughter whom Mary Ann abandoned to be raised by Brian Hawkins; though not her biological daughter, Shawna still had good reason to feel abandoned when Mary Ann left).
Even with a hysterectomy and two deaths, Mary Ann in Autumn feels upbeat and fans were happy to have Mary Ann restored to being a sympathetic character. The pre-operative female-to-male Jake Greenleaf, who works in Michael’s gardening business, Plant Parenthood, has the solace of Mrs. Madrigal but confusion from a closeted Mormon missionary to Sodom-by-the-Bay. In addition to trying to help the homeless woman, Shawna has something like an ongoing relationship with Otto, who is a street performer (a clown with a monkey).
Once I settled back into the intricate plotting and generous characterization, my main disappointment is that Brian Hawkins (Mary Ann’s ex-husband, who raised Shawna) is on the road (in his Winnebago) throughout the course of the novel.
© 9 February 2015, Stephen O. Murray