Sunday, July 1, 2007

Tales of the City

Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin
$11.20 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 0060964049
As the gay rights movement came to the fore during the American 1970s, Armistead Maupin was writing his Tales of the City as a serial story in several US newspapers. This is the first part in the series, and a masterpiece of gay literature.
Several classics have been written this way: Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes were originally published one chapter at a time in newspapers and later collected in novel form.
The work revolves around a group of tenants at 28 Barbary Lane.
Maryann Singleton is a rather sheltered young lady from Ohio who moves to San Francisco at the height of the sexual revolution. Her landlady, Mrs. Madrigal, is a kindly transsexual who grows marijuana in the apartment building's yard and distributes it freely to her tenants.
The neighbors make up the rest of the cast: Mona, her pan-sexual and hedonistic gal pal who spends her days smoking grass, popping Quaaludes, and making love to anyone of either gender. Michael Tolliver is a sensitive young gay man who moved from Florida looking for love and success. Brian, the downstairs neighbor, is a recovering frat boy and ex-lawyer approaching 30 and starting to slow down.
These people really know how to live: there's always a party or drag show to go to, plenty of drugs and free love, and everyone's mood rings are blue. As the 80s dawned, AIDS cast a dark shadow over the story.
Words can't express how much fun Tales of the City is to read. Moreover, it's become the standard chronicle of the early gay rights movement. The characters all seem like they'd make great friends, and the wacky setting means there's always something unexpected happening.
Armistead describes a world which, sadly, no longer exists: sex and drugs for days in a consequence-free environment. He paved the way for ACT-UP, Marches on Washington, and today's pride parades in every major city. If you were alive, young, and queer in the 70s (sadly, I was only a baby at the time), 28 Barbary Lane sounds like the place to be.
May she rise again.

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