Reviewed by Steven LaVigne
When debating the greatest collection of Gay novels following Stonewall, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series is an obvious standout. Readers have long been drawn to the residents of San Francisco’s 28 Barbary Lane, where the “trannie landlady,” Mrs. Madrigal sees her special residents as her children. They consider Mary Ann Singleton, Brian Hawkins, Mona Ramsay and Michael “Mouse” Tolliver their friends and they hold a special place among American Gay literary characters. We’ve followed their activities through six books, until Maupin ended the series in 1989.
Denying that Michael Tolliver Lives is a sequel, this volume brings the denizens of 28 Barbary Lane into the new century. Michael, now close to 60, has met, fallen in love and married Ben. Over two decades younger and aware of Michael’s HIV status and reliance on testosterone injections and Viagra, Ben is the genuine love of his life. Of all her “children,” Michael is, perhaps, closest to Anna Madrigal, who, at 85, has mellowed only slightly following a trio of strokes. He’s the one who stayed close when the others moved away and she sold the property. For one thing, Michael’s connected her with Jake, a female-to-male transsexual who rents her his garden apartment and takes on the position of caretaker.
There are too many loose ends of plot to recap in a review, but this is Michael’s story. Michael is Maupin’s literary alter ego. Just as Michael married Ben, Maupin himself married Christopher Turner several years ago. Like Maupin, Michael is a transplant to San Francisco, so Michael’s conflicts toward and commitment to his family, both his genetic and his adopted one, are one reason he’s managed to survive for the past 15 years.
Michael Tolliver Lives takes readers across the country. Michael and Ben visit Florida, attending to family business, when it’s announced that Michael’s mother is on death’s doorstep. While there, he learns of conflicts full of sexual politics between his mother, brother and hyper-religious sister-in-law. It seems that everyone is either leaning on Michael or they rely on him for various reasons. With Ben’s complete support, he realizes where his genuine commitment lies, and, of course, he comes through for everyone.
There’s no guarantee that Maupin will return to the Barbary Lane characters, and after reading Michael Tolliver Lives, there’s really no reason he should. Michael’s story is a stellar coda to this significant contribution to Gay literature.
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Steven LaVigne is a contributing writer to White Crane. His book reviews have graced the pages of our magazine for many years.