In addition to Mary Tyler Moore, another triple named gal, Mary Ann Singleton, has eased me through some of lifeís sharpest moments.† Driving in a U-Haul to Alphabet City nearly 15 years ago, I kept awake listening to my friend Martin read aloud the latest antics of the fallible heroine of Armistead Maupinís Tales of the City series.† Indelibly inked in my imagination as the actress Laura Linney who played in her in the PBS mini-series, the girl is back in the 8th book in the collection, Mary Ann in Autumn.† The books have always been a cleverly composed and punchy commentary on pop-culture, vaguely hiding Maupinís own worldview and life experiences, with hilariously constructed plots.† This one is no differentóminus the hysteria.† There arenít many laughs here.† As the title would suggest, Mary Annís light is dimming at the age of 57 which leaves her feeling a little blue, perhaps a reflection of Maupinís own maudlin mood.
A personal tragedy has lead Mary Ann to escape her New York lifeówhere she fled in earlier episodesóto return to San Francisco to seek comfort from lovable characters she had left behind, including best gay friend Michael and the indomitable Mrs. Madrigal, played to TV perfection by Olympia Dukakis.† Like Mary Ann, Michael has aged and now has a much younger husband, giving Maupin the opportunity to explore monogamy in gay relationships, along with a titillating discussion of male vs. female sexual desires.† A supporting cast of characters includes the transgender Jake who provides a real insight into the psyche of gender identity issues that Maupin didnít necessarily explore earlier with Mrs. Madrigal.
But really, the story here is all for Mary Ann, as one would expect from the book’s opening dedication to Laura Linney.† I couldnít help† imagining that captivating actress reading some of the lines hereóas if Maupin was channeling her current character on Showtimeís The Big C (a program Iím wildly ambivalent about).†† Typical of Mary Annís sorry state of mind:
ďIt all goes so fast, she thought.† We dole out our lives in dinner parties and plane flights, and itís over before we know it.† We lose everyone we love, if they donít lose us first, and every single thing we do is intended to distract us from that reality.Ē
Sounds like a Sondheim lyric if you ask meóand something Chef said to me on second date, sweet, right?† Only Laura Linney could give this thought a lift that would keep me from hitting the bottle to drown my sorrows.
Maupin has been a big influence in my own writing.† His clever integration of historical references and pop culture items will no doubt make the books an important cultural historical relic.† I took cues from Maupin in writing Alphabet City trying to capture the feel of a specific time periodóthe late Ď90sówith stories about early gay dating on the Internetóhearing the modem connect with static, for example.† A line that always earned laughs from gay boys when I was on book tour.† Here, Maupin hones his craft using Facebook as an important plot point.† Similarly, Mormons and their Prop 8 fight in California are crucial to the development of a few other characters.
Honestly, I was excited but nervous when I first learned that the next book in the Tales of the City series was forthcoming.† Similar feelings to a class reunion, I suppose.† While you might look forward to catching up with the people you remember likingómeet their new spouses and loversóitís always the signs of aging that are† worrisome.† Maybe itís that you donít want to see those reflections in yourself.† On the whole, Iím glad I attended (read) the Mary Ann in Autumn reunion.
But it didnít perk me up.† Instead, it left me feeling, well, maudlin.† And if thatís how Maupin is feeling, then by all means, the next time I see him, I want to give him a hug.† Because after autumn, it gets a little worse in winter, but then thereís spring.† As the phrase of the moment says, it gets better.