Armistead Maupin’s Babycakes, the fourth volume in his Tales of the City series about life in San Francisco, is about the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) crisis. Babycakes provides a psychological study of how individuals and families suffer and recover from the loss of loved ones. In this case, the family is one of choice rather than one of origin.
As the novel opens, the reader discovers that Michael Tolliver has recently lost his lover, Dr. Jon Fielding, to AIDS. One of the first thousand people in the United States to succumb to the disease, Jon withered to ninety pounds. He died, however, surrounded by his loving chosen family, including not only Michael but also his landlady Anna Madrigal and his friends Mona Ramsey, Brian Baxter, and Mary Ann Singleton.
Before Michael can begin his recovery, he is forced to face painful memories and emotions. That he and Jon were never sexually faithful to each other weighs heavily on Michael’s conscience. Worse, he feels that he never clearly communicated to Jon how much he loved him. Too often, they fought and turned to others for solace. These haunting thoughts make Michael feel helpless and despondent. In an effort to assuage the pain, he chooses to do volunteer work for an AIDS organization. His chosen family members even encourage Michael to start dating again, but emotionally he is far from ready to take this step.
In his recovery process, Michael finds help from the same family of choice who saw Jon through his final illness. The family’s matriarch is the nonjudgmental, unconditionally loving Anna Madrigal, a pot-smoking, transsexual landlady in her sixties. In her presence Michael feels protected and mothered: “He sat there in the musty embrace of Mrs. Madrigal’s sofa and counted his blessings while she puttered about in the kitchen.” Anna also gives Michael 1,000 toward a therapeutic trip to England.
On his vacation, Michael is helped by another family member, Mona Ramsey. Actually Anna Madrigal’s blood-related child, Mona is a lesbian who lives in a castle in England. Mona welcomes Michael and a friend of his, offering unconditional...
(The entire section is 533 words.)