Tales of the City

No, not Dickens. Try Maupin. Armistead Maupin.

It’s really, really weird reading a book about where you live. I’ve done it before, too; Steinbeck’s canon basically takes place in my hometown backyard. But Tales of the City, and apparently all the succeeding novels, take place within blocks of my current apartment in San Francisco. Of course, the neighborhoods are completely different than they were in the 70s. Polk Street, now home to bourgeois couples with dogs and kids and family money, was once the gayest part of town. It’s odd to think of all the drag queens and bears and everyone roaming around up here. Sometimes I wish it was still like that. Anyway, this tale, despite its thirtysomething age, definitely speaks for a generation — and a type of city-dweller that could only exist in San Francisco. Through his rich cast of characters, he defines us San Franciscans. We are transient, non-committal, and full of secrets. We love intensely and temporarily, we are not actually from San Francisco, and we think we know everything about life. San Francisco is a great place to start out and, as I found out from the book, a great place to settle, though it doesn’t seem like it now. But if the city changes as much between then and now as it will between now and, say, 2040, we’ve got quite a tumultuous future ahead of us (perhaps even literally).

Stepping away from the impending earthquake for a second, these characters got more intriguing with every turn of the page. I connected instantly with the prudish Mary Ann, but quickly shied away from her when I found out more about DeDe and Beauchamp. And then there’s Michael, who’s gay to everyone but his parents. And Mona, who’s gay to everyone but herself. And Anna, the landlady I’d love to know but hate to live with, I still haven’t figured out. Maupin must have had the most intricate storyboards for this novel, because each character connects in such a logical yet surprising way. Each has an affair with the other or meets the other or introduces the other, and yet their stories are somewhat resolved at the end of the book without them all meeting in a room awkwardly. It’s a great story assembled from weekly chapters from the Chronicle, and it’ll make you love living in San Francisco (especially the Northern part). Long live the city by the bay, and long live the tales that it tells.

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