Mary Ann in Autumn
Armistead Maupin is, by now, gay royalty. He has documented a generation of gay liberation through his unique and personable little novels. The Tales of the City books (which became a scandalous mini-series in the 1990s and have now become that characteristic Noughties artefact - a live stage musical) are perhaps unique in chronicling the struggle, rise and slow diminution of a social movement and an identity. Maupin has been there for every stage of "gay," and it seems that as long as he's alive he will continue to write about the peculiar coterie of queer misfits that have inhabited his San Francisco since the 1970s.
If you're like me you read the Tales of the City series as a youngster, and in many ways it was these wonderful, Dickensian, stories that shaped what it meant to be happily, functionally and healthily gay in contemporary culture. I say "healthily," but of course in many of Maupin's books he was writing about the terrible scourge of AIDS and the devastating impact it had on the dynamic culture of which he was the unofficial laureate. And now, in Mary Ann in Autumn, the spectre of AIDS has diminished, and instead Maupin's characters deal with the far more humdrum (and perhaps universal) betrayals of the ageing body: cancer, impotence and dementia. Maupin is here to tell us that gays get old, too.
It is almost impossible to pick up one of Maupin's books and want to put it back down any time soon. He is a ridiculously addictive writer, his characters and stories inhabiting a world of ever-so-slightly-enchanted believability. It is not high literature, certainly, but I think I can safely say that Maupin is a species of literary genius, capturing a gossipy, casual style that renders his popular fiction almost faultless. He has never written a dud book, and his eye for subtly clever and involving plot means that you will forgive him the very-rare clumsiness that occurs in his prose. I went to hear Maupin speak last year at the Sydney Opera House, and he said he was a tireless re-writer, and wouldn't leave a chapter alone till he felt it was perfect. Such careful attention to his craft certainly shows, and it pays off -Mary Ann in Autumn is a gorgeous creation - a fabulous, distracting novel that demands to be read.
If you know the books then you will be happy to see most of the old characters there - Mouse, Mary Ann, Anna Madrigal. Plus a couple of the new ones like Jake the F2M gardener and Mouse's hunky young boyfriend who hunts daddies at the Y in his lunch hour.
Get the book - you will love it, you will inhale it and you will be left with the wonderful warmth of nostalgia that is so rare in modern literature - the familiar call of a set of characters and situation with which you are perfectly familiar.
Please write us a new one soon, Mr. Maupin!