I frankly had no idea what this book was about when I downloaded it. I was pleasantly surprised. It turned out to be and extremely entertaining listen. Maupin has created a very interesting set of characters whose humanity and humanness will lift your spirits.
I was dismayed when I saw that there was no other version than Maupin's narration. I am always wary when an author reads their own book and this narration did nothing to change my mind.
Unlike the previous books, this instalment in the Tales of the City series is told from the first person POV of Michael Tolliver. While previous narrators have done a good job at capturing the difference facets of Michael, Maupin imbues the character with a lethargy and dullness that does no favour to the character or the story. Unlike previous narrators, all skilled actors, Maupin makes no attempt to differentiate between different personalities. Everyone sounds the same and it makes listening to the book quite dull at times.
The story itself suffers from being stuck in Michael's POV. Of course, this makes it feel not like a Tales of the City book at all. Rather, it feels like Maupin started out writing a book that was semi-autobiographical then decided "oh hey", I can make this a Tales of the City novel." Michael's story alone is too thin for a whole novel. As a story thread in a normal TotC novel, it would have worked fine, but not alone. Maupin goes to great lengths to show the intimacy between Michael and his partner Ben, but I got tired of reading/listening about their adoration for each other, particularly as Maupin TELLS us rather than SHOWS. I GET IT, Maupin, they're in love and a great couple, now let's move the story along, hey?
I would have much preferred the traditional TotC ensemble cast with various POVs. I wanted to know more about Shawna, Ben, Jake, and Brian. Instead I was stuck with Michael, who has definitely become a character with diminishing returns.
I liked hearing the ongoing saga of characters whom I had become fond of through previous audiobooks. The author's books make for great listening as he's such a good storyteller. That said, as a Southern, conservative, heterosexual female, I was initially repelled by the first-person, graphic descriptions of male organs and homosexual love-making. Also, the narrator didn't fit my image of Michael Tolliver whom I'd liked a lot in earlier books. Finally, I didn't like the knee-jerk liberal, political stances and broad-brushed disrespect toward those holding more conservative views. However, for several reasons, I came back to the book and listened all the way to the end. I basically had become fond of the characters and wanted to hear more about their lives. Michael Tolliver as depicted by Maupin is good natured, has a self-deprecating sense of humor, and is devoted to his husband Ben. All the characters are described in a colorful, entertaining, very human way. The interpersonal values prized by the author and exemplified most perfectly in the life of Anna Madrigal are healthy, wholesome values. Finally in a strange way, the first-person narration and overly graphic sex talk, although initially off-putting, provided me with a much greater understanding of the variety of gay life styles and issues.
The charm of the original books Tales of the City, invoked delightful characters in amusing situations; all relevant to their invented lives in 70's San Francisco. Revisiting these characters in the midst of middle age is as painful as the 20-year reunion of Dynasty. You just don't want to know that Michael Tolliver is still focused on sex, but now needs Viagra; that many of the original characters are mellowed, moved or dead. The story has absolutely no humor, quirky characters or story line that keeps one interested.... They all should have been left alone in our memories. Armistead should have found something like Viagra to excite his writing again. A major disappointment...couldn't wait to get it over with, and put the book where it rightly belongs... in the recycleables.