Armistead Maupin Criticism - Essay

Publishers Weekly (review date 1 February 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of More Tales of the City, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 217, No. 4, February 1, 1980, p. 106.

[In the following review, the critic provides brief synopses of the story lines in More Tales of the City.]

[In More Tales of the City,] things are hopping once again at Anna Madrigal's San Francisco rooming house, and Maupin fills us in on the latest crises in the lives of the Barbary Lane crew. Anna finally reveals that she is not the man she once was, which comes as quite a shock to several of her boarders (one of whom turns out to be her daughter). Mary Ann and Michael set out to find the loves of their lives on a cruise to Mexico. She takes up with an amnesia victim who—as the two eventually discover—lost his memory after becoming involved with an Episcopal cannibal cult. And it looks as though Michael's future will be rosy when he meets Jon, a kind gynecologist. Mona and Brian, two of Anna's more frustrated tenants, find solace in each other at the end of this entertaining, highly dramatic saga, which takes well-aimed pokes at just about every imaginable human lifestyle and personality.

Stephen Harvey (review date 31 August 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Further Tales of the City, in The Village Voice, August 31, 1982, p. 40.

[Harvey was an American film curator and critic. In the following review, he focuses on the characters and plot of Further Tales of the City.]

According to Michael, the Tales of the City trilogy's gay-clone Candide, there are two kinds of people in this world—or at least in San Francisco, which in Armistead Maupin's oeuvre amounts to the same thing. Either you are a Tony, one of those benighted souls who think the city's theme song is the Bennett rendition of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," or a Jeanette, an aficionado of the blithe and gallant Miss...

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Jacqueline Austin (review date 18 November 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Babycakes, in The New York Times Book Review, November 18, 1984, p. 32.

[In the following review, Austin favorably assesses Babycakes, predicting that the book will win over some of Maupin's critics.]

Queen Elizabeth has arrived in San Francisco; just as Mary Ann Singleton, television reporter, goes to cover the scene, one of the Queen's officers jumps ship. Mary Ann's husband, Brian, doesn't know that he's infertile, but Mary Ann does, so she decides to…. Thus begins Babycakes, and the fourth installment of Armistead Maupin's San Francisco saga careens beautifully on. People who haven't read his Tales of the City, More Tales of the City and Further Tales of the City might initially be confused by the plethora of characters, but they should continue. Babycakes, unlike the Tales, preserves a sense of irony while making paramount the values of warmth and love. Almost a decade into their promiscuous but caring friendships, the characters are tempered by age and wisdom, though still layered in reflecting, intermittently revealing levels of absurdity. Gestures have a life of their own—an "Elizabethan" wave of the hand, for example, belongs first to the Queen, then to a socialite, then to Mona, a mail-order lesbian bride, making equal the essentially unequal. If British high life and low life don't come across as different from San Francisco's, who cares? Credit, as Mr. Maupin does, "the global village," or suspend disbelief and concentrate on the mostly deft twists and turns of plot. Babycakes seethes with pleasantly nasty topical references and has been likened by the over-enthusiastic to Dickens's Victorian melodramas and to Wodehouse's cheerful fables. Mr. Maupin's style, though, with all its near-perfect ear ("crumbling umber castle"), is still too alienated and grotesque for many, and Babycakes herself—Mary Ann—isn't central enough to function as a proper picaresque heroine. But this book will probably win over some of Mr. Maupin's critics while delighting those who enjoy his continuing satire on the San Francisco milieu.

Tom Spain (essay date 20 March 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Talk with Armistead Maupin," in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 231, No. 11, March 20, 1987, pp. 53-4.

[In the following excerpted essay, which is based on a conversation with Maupin, Spain discusses Maupin's homosexual themes and attitudes, the AIDS crisis and its effect on his writing, his method for creating characters and plots, and his wide appeal among both heterosexuals and homosexuals.]

It's the Friday before a long holiday weekend in San Francisco, and many of the city's residents are preparing to escape to the country for some time away from their day-to-day concerns. The readers of the San Francisco Examiner, however, will take at least one daily...

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Harry Baldwin (review date 19 July 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Significant Others, in Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 19, 1987, p. 15.

[In the following favorable review, Baldwin discusses the development of character and theme in Significant Others.]

First, up popped Tales of the City in 1978, a collection of his serialized newspaper columns chronicling the hopelessly, comically tangled lives of selected fictional soul mates from widely disparate sexual, geographic and social orientations—and all this in a charmed, anything-possible San Francisco. There followed More Tales of, Further Tales, and Babycakes (a communal nickname). Now, almost 10 years later, Armistead Maupin's...

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Adam Mars-Jones (review date 8-14 April 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Crisis in the Beloved City," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4436, April 8-14, 1988, p. 384.

[In the following review of Significant Others, Mars-Jones contends that the story lacks the "inventiveness" and "high camp" of Maupin's earlier pre-AIDS novels.]

Significant Others is the fifth in Armistead Maupin's endearing Tales of the City series of sagas, about high and low life (but never depressingly low life) in San Francisco. In each book, Maupin plants a new generation of plot and character-seedlings, re-pots some mature blooms and thins out some others. He has the literary equivalent, in his wry, easy-going prose, of green...

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Andrew Lumsden (review date 15 April 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "If You Go Down to the Woods Today," in New Statesman, Vol. 115, No. 2977, April 15, 1988, p. 42.

[In the following review of Significant Others, Lumsden describes Maupin's writing as "urbane" and notes his propensity for humorous assessments of both hetero- and homosexuals.]

As I write this review [of Significant Others] I am babysitting—actually, he's nine—while Zak's straight parents go off to court.

And that means that I'm inside the world that Maupin has made peculiarly his own. Listen: at breakfast, just half an hour ago, young Zak gazed at me earnestly—for we haven't met in a couple of years—and said without the...

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Walter Kendrick (essay date October 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Serial Thriller," in The Village Voice Literary Supplement, No. 79, October, 1989, p. 13.

[An American educator and critic, Kendrick is the author of The Novel-Machine: The Theory and Fiction of Anthony Trollope (1980). In the following essay, he focuses on the development of the characters and themes in Maupin's Tales of the City novels.]

Eleven years and 2000 pages later, Mary Ann Singleton has finally arrived. Way back when, at the beginning of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (1978), she was a naive Clevelander who'd come to San Francisco for a week's vacation and decided not to go home. Now, at the end of the sixth and final...

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David Feinberg (review date 22 October 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Goodnight, Mrs. Madrigal," in The New York Times Book Review, October 22, 1989, p. 26.

[An American novelist, essayist, and critic, Feinberg was a member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). His final work, Queer and Loathing: Rants and Raves of a Raging AIDS Clone, was published near the time of his death in 1994. In the following review of Sure of You, Feinberg examines the influence of the AIDS crisis on the novel's characters and plot.]

Farewell to 28 Barbary Lane. Sure of You is the sixth and final volume in Armistead Maupin's remarkable Tales of the City series, an extended love letter to a magical San Francisco....

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Tony Clifton (review date 30 October 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mainstreaming a Cult Classic," in Newsweek, Vol. 114, No. 18, October 30, 1989, p. 77.

[In the review below, Clifton describes Sure of You as a dark finale to the Tales series set "in a city now haunted by AIDS."]

Armistead Maupin is a jovial fellow, a witty gay writer who can even make wry jokes about AIDS—which he does in his latest book, Sure of You…. There is only one subject that annoys him, irritates the hell out of him, enrages him, in fact. It is the subject of The Closet, and the cowards and traitors still cowering in its darkness.

Sure of You is the sixth—and Maupin says the last—novel in...

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Adam Block (review date November 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Out on the Town," in Mother Jones, Vol. 14, No. 9, November, 1989, p. 54.

[In the following review, Block describes the tone of Sure of You as serious, noting the novel's concern with such themes as the AIDS crisis and homosexuality.]

"The thing of calling something a 'black' or a 'gay' or a 'women's' novel: it sounds like some medicine that you've got to take," writer Armistead Maupin says, smiling almost wearily. "And that does a terrible disservice to those of us who are simply trying to tell stories about the real world, simply trying to include the people into the real world where they belong."

There is still a hint of North...

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Charles Solomon (review date 5 November 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City, Babycakes, and Significant Others, in Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 5, 1989, p. 20.

[In the following review, Solomon remarks favorably on the Tales series.]

Bedtime stories for Baby Boomers. Armistead Maupin's continuing saga of life in San Francisco began as a serial in the Chronicle in 1976, and his tongue-in-cheek depiction of the late '70s sex-and drugs singles scene seems as remote today as the misadventures of the Pickwickians.

Although the search for love and security in an increasingly uncertain world remains at the...

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Harriet Waugh (review date 10 February 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "City of the Plain and Not So Plain," in Spectator, Vol. 264, No. 8431, February 10, 1990, pp. 31-2.

[Waugh, the daughter of English novelist Evelyn Waugh, is an English editor, critic, and novelist whose works include Kate's House (1983). In the following review, she examines the Tales novels, focusing on character and theme.]

Armistead Maupin started his fictional—and mainly homosexual—saga of life and times in San Francisco in the Seventies and Eighties as a contemporary serial in the San Francisco Chronicle. In all, there are six novels chronicling the sexual connections and life-styles of the original cast of characters and their...

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Nicci Gerrard (review date 2 March 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Soap without Suds," in New Statesman and Society, Vol. 3, No. 90, March 2, 1990, pp. 36, 38.

[In the following review of Sure of You, Gerrard praises the story as a "bright, funny, engaging and loquacious soap."]

Writers—like Dickens or even Fay Weldon—have written newspaper serials which have then appeared in novel from; others—like Trollope, Anthony Powell, Catherine Cookson—have written novel series. Armistead Maupin has combined both, and become a cult. It is easy to see why. Sure of You, the sixth and final novel in his Tales of the City sequence—written in installments over the years—has a narrative as easy to pick up as...

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Tania Glyde (review date 9-15 March 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "From Bath-House to Bleeper," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4536, March 9-15, 1990, p. 258.

[In the following review, Glyde favorably assesses the Tales novels, discussing the difference in tone of the first three volumes with that of the last three.]

The daily column in the form of a story (no rumination allowed): it worked for Dickens, and Armistead Maupin, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, quickly saw an advantage in the agonizing hurry to get each instalment out on time. Current events and absurdities could be skinned and fictionalized immediately. What Maupin calls "defenders of serious journalism" complained, but to no avail....

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Charles Solomon (review date 14 October 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Sure of You, in Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 14, 1990, p. 14.

[In the review below, Solomon remarks favorably on Sure of You.]

The seventh installment in the popular Tales of the City series continues Armistead Maupin's chronicle of contemporary life in a romanticized San Francisco. Part soap opera, part roman a clef and part ably written contemporary novel, Sure of You is as entertaining as Maupin's earlier books. While Michael Tolliver confronts the permanent terrors of his HIV-positive status, Mary Ann Singleton, who began as the heroine of the books, succumbs to an insidious disease within her soul. She's...

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James Levin (essay date 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Politics, Power and Pride," in The Gay Novel in America, Garland Publishing, 1991, pp. 288-89.

[The author of The Gay Novel: The Male Homosexual Image in America (1983), Levin is an American educator, biographer, and nonfiction writer. In the following excerpt, he contends that Tales of the City presents homosexuality as "a single facet of the human persona" and an ordinary part of the social milieu.]

Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City consists of interrelated vignettes that were originally printed as a column in the San Francisco Chronicle. (The work was so commercially successful that it led to six sequels.) Despite the humble...

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Micheline Hagan (review date Fall 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Out of the Fog," in San Francisco Review of Books, Vol. 17, No. 2, Fall, 1992, pp. 5-6.

[In the following review, Hagan compares the themes of Maybe the Moon with those of the Tales novels.]

It's an airy spacious place, a penthouse cresting a Noe Valley hill, that Armistead Maupin calls home. Even on a cloudy San Francisco summer day, the living room glows with light from the expanse of windows looking out over the city—Maupin's home of twenty years. As an avid reader of Tales of the City, I arrived with a bounty of questions regarding his latest novel, in which he strays from his familiar San Francisco cast and setting and moves to...

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Nora Johnson (review date 29 November 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Everybody's Beautiful," in New York Times Book Review, November 29, 1992, p. 24.

[Johnson is an American novelist and critic. In the following review of Maybe the Moon, she centers on the theme of discrimination and the protagonist Cady Roth.]

Cadence (Cady) Roth longs to be a real movie star. But she cannot get away from her most famous role, as Mr. Woods, an E.T.- or Yoda-like character—in an electronically controlled rubber suit—in a hit science fiction movie. That this otherwise intelligent person does not understand why other offers are not rolling in is soon apparent to readers of Armistead Maupin's novel Maybe the Moon. Cady is a...

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David L. Ulin (review date 1 December 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Size Matters," in The Village Voice, Vol. 37, No. 48, December 1, 1992, p. 58.

[In the following review of Maybe the Moon, Ulin contends that the characters are stereotypical and the story fails to mirror real life.]

Back in the late '70's, Armistead Maupin came up with a truly brilliant idea: to write a serial novel, a comedy of manners that would unfold day to day in the pages of a major metropolitan newspaper. It was a very 19th century concept—Dickensian, even—but Maupin's approach seemed completely here-and-now. His intention was to take America's shifting cultural landscape and reflect it in a work that would feature a wide cross-section of...

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Edmund White (review date 5 February 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Larger Than Life," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4688, February 5, 1993, p. 19.

[The author of States of Desire: Travels in Gay America (1980), White is an American educator, novelist, essayist, and critic. In the following review, he describes Maupin's dialogue in Maybe the Moon as "crisp" and discusses the development of both the major and minor characters.]

In the 1960s, it was fashionable to define a work of art as a machine for creating sensations. If so, Maybe the Moon (a deliberately corny title invented by a Hollywood producer in the novel) is an extremely efficient machine for producing sensations of pleasure, suspense,...

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Adam Mars-Jones (review date 25 March 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tweak My Nipple," in London Review of Books, Vol. 15, No. 6, March 25, 1993, pp. 21-2.

[In the following review of Maybe the Moon, Mars-Jones charges that the story is poorly paced, the characterizations are lackluster, and the themes lack consistently serious treatment.]

Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, which started appearing as a newspaper serial in the mid-Seventies, and in volume form a few years later, are little classics of light literature: in their lightness they outweigh any number of more earnest enterprises. Maupin's San Francisco is a carousel lightly disguised as a city, a continuous party where everyone is welcome without any...

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Armistead Maupin (essay date 8-14 January 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Tale of the '70s," in TV Guide Magazine, Vol. 42, No. 2, January 8-14, 1994, pp. 26-8.

[In the following essay, Maupin discusses the creation and development of the Tales of the City series from newspaper serial to novel to television miniseries.]

PBS—famous for such British-made epic dramas as Upstairs, Downstairs; Brideshead Revisited; and The Jewel in the Crown—will broadcast yet another this week: Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, a sweeping period saga whose literary origins can be traced directly to the vegetable department of a San Francisco supermarket.

Let me back up a little.


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