Tales of the City (Tales of the City, #1)

I’d never heard of this book until it started showing up on a lot of author lists of their top 10 favorite books of all time. It’s been described as a gay classic and authentic to San Francisco in the 1970’s. Since this story was first published in the newspaper as a serial in the 1970’s, it has gone on to be a miniseries that garnered several award nominations. Even reading the book today, it remains a whimsical delight that clearly set the stage for many such spin offs in the future. The begin I’d never heard of this book until it started showing up on a lot of author lists of their top 10 favorite books of all time. It’s been described as a gay classic and authentic to San Francisco in the 1970’s. Since this story was first published in the newspaper as a serial in the 1970’s, it has gone on to be a miniseries that garnered several award nominations. Even reading the book today, it remains a whimsical delight that clearly set the stage for many such spin offs in the future. The beginnings of the crazy, pot smoking city dwellers as they live their lives and look for jobs, love, and happiness still resonates with humor, quirky characters, and a timeless elegance that keeps this series in style no matter what year it’s read. If you haven’t read this fabulous book – you definitely should.In the first installment of the series, of which there are seven, the various whacky and crazy residents of 28 Barbary Lane are introduced. There is Mary Ann Singleton fresh from Ohio that decides to stay in San Francisco after 5 days on vacation. She meets vivacious and hopelessly romantic Michael Tolliver, a gay man from Orlando nicknamed Mouse, at a grocery store dating event. There is Michael’s best female friend in Mona, a quirky sexually confused ad executive that explodes during a pantyhose presentation over where the word “crotch” should appear. There is Brian, a straight man in a predominantly gay city trying to find lady right but settling for lady right now. The landlady extraordinaire is Anna Madrigal, the mysterious pot growing, joint gifting delight that runs the house. There are a bevy of secondary characters that move in and out of the inhabitants’ lives from bosses to lovers to blackmailers and any assorted schemes for life, love, and coping.The book may be almost 400 pages long but it reads incredibly fast. In fact you’ll devour this fascinating story in just a few hours due to the quick pace and numerous scene breaks. The style is clearly a serial as there isn’t a cohesive narrative to the story but that isn’t a problem as there

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is are numerous connective themes evident. The various members of the large cast all have a turn to expose their actions, thoughts, and reasoning in often laugh out loud hilarious ways. Even given the large number of people and names floating in the book, every one is memorable and stands out. This is an incredible feat in itself and several of these characters are clear representations of people from that time and style in SF. There is ad business mogul dying of kidney failure trying to assure his company’s future and etch out some happiness of his own and his selfish son in law, a closet gay man struggling to find himself among the rich, cultured society. These are just a few of the outstanding portraits painted by Maupin.Alongside the memorable characters that will have you hooked on this series, there is the equally important and stunning setting of San Francisco and the political climate of the time. The story doesn’t dwell on politics too much in the first installment but it doesn’t shy away from exposing the partying atmosphere for what it is. The bath houses offering porn and orgies are given a sly wink with many characters – both gay and straight – enjoying the fruits of their offerings. The various bars are mentioned and included where to go for which type of cruising spot. The atmosphere of casual sex is juxtaposed to characters that all yearn for something real, something deeper but play the game since they’re lost in how else to find happiness. Here especially the characters come alive with Michael going through man after man, falling in love and hoping for that real, solid relationship. He even quips that he gets married four times a day in his head on the morning bus ride.

One of the best aspects of the book is the integration of the city and people. There are the rich descriptions of the cable cars, the bars, the parks, the fog, and the various landmarks that brings the city alive to readers both familiar with the city and not. The writing is crisp, funny, and often tongue in cheek, inviting readers in on the joke. The various communities and groups of people from desperate cruisers to high society all mingle together. These aren’t stories about gay or straight men and women in a city during the 70’s but more so all of its quirky, fabulously insane people that work, live, and love together. None of them are perfect, but all of them are perfectly outrageous. This timeless classic is great now as it no doubt was in the late 1970’s. If you haven’t heard of this gem, don’t wait but go out and get it now.

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Category: Review

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