For more than three decades Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City has blazed its own trail through popular culture...from a groundbreaking newspaper serial, to a classic novel, to a television event that entranced millions around the world. The first of six novels about the denizens of the mythic apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane, Tales of the City is both a sparkling comedy of manners and an indelible portrait of an era that changed forever the way we live.
©1978 The Chronicle Publishing Company (P)2012 HarperCollinsPublishers
Maupin's Tales of the City series is the most well preserved slice of popular culture ever captured in fiction. Tales and its sequels follow the loves and lives of nearly every imaginable type of person in post sexual revolution, pre-AIDS San Francisco.
These beloved books hold up because reading them is as good as time-travel back to the seventies. It is the seventies captured in real time as each chapter was first published in the S.F. Chronicle each day long before they were ever bound into a book.
The intricate overlapping lives and loves of the characters are what make these stories so delicious. (Calling them a "soap opera" does this work an injustice.) The repartee among the characters is priceless. If you've read these books you likely consider Michael "Mouse" Toliver, Mona, MaryAnn, and the very elegant Mrs. Madrigal amongst your best fictional friends. Of course an open mind is needed because relationships and sexuality of all types are major themes of these books. Prudes and/or the homophobic need not apply.
Unlike earlier versions Maupin allowed every single word of his books to be professionally narrated instead of doing just selected parts himself. As for the actual audio recordings, a woman narrator is appropriate since Mary Anne Singleton is the main protagonist. Frances McDormand reads with relish as if dishing gossip like a best friend. There is plenty of character in her voice without overacting. She does not attempt to mimic the delivery of Olypimia Dukkakis, Larua Linney et. al. from the HBO television series of this book which was a wise choice. The sound quality is superb. The intro by Rachel Maddow is short and all too sweet.
Yes, because Frances McDormand breathes real life into the characters and the entire story just pops. The vast diversity of the residents and friends that are a part of the house at 23 Barberry Lane make for a most interesting and rather hilarious look at life among the residents and their friends and lovers during a particularly unique time in the whole cultural scene going on in San Francisco, as well as the general flavor of this country as a whole. So much was going on in those days of civil rights, which blossomed into many other issues: gay and women's rights, the war in Vietnam, the period in my life when we really thought we were going to be a part of real changes for people in this country, that would focus on the rights of everyone and make equality and freedom a reality for all. And to a large extent, much did happen and new legislation enabled the inclusion of many folks given the civil rights and equality of everyone else. That is, to an extent. The mood in the country was one of unbounded optimism and it seemed the young people engaged people to talk about, discuss, protest!, and March for many issues. We were naive and wanted to believe that violence was not necessary in order to accomplish anything. A time of peaceful, nonviolence and protest marches to get the message out. This book takes place during the latter part of the 60's, when people were just starting to come out of the closet and San Francisco was the place to be no matter what your particular issue was. The general attitude of the citizens of this country during that time became more tolerant and open to new ideas and willing to at least tolerate discussion and activity that addressed civil rights for all, what freedom should or could or might mean. In general, people just seemed nicer. A kinder gentler America, especially in light of the state of affairs currently holding in Washington, which is representative of attitude of discord and division that has spread to an alarming degree. Times have changed certainly, and without trying to make a judgment call on life in these United States today, this book takes place during a period when the atmosphere and general attitude of the country was in a very very different place. Hope was very prevalent back in those hippie /dippie days, and as naive and silly it may seem now, it was a lot more pleasant place to be. People certainly engaged in debate and confrontation, but the meanness that seems so obvious today was nonexistent then. And this book gives the reader a wonderful story about a quirky, crazy bunch of folks that make this book a very pleasurable experience. The audio version of this book really brings all the various day to day experiences of the characters whether happy, sad, ridiculous, difficult or whatever life brings each day alive for me as I listen. It's a much fuller experience. I feel more emotionally attached and find myself more concerned about some of these characters. Listening to the narrator give voice to each person and does justice to Maupin's marvelous development of his characters . And the humor is not lost, nor the bitterness or irony either. In short, this was a great fun experience. I loved the characters, some more than others. But the overall experience gave me a much needed break from the reality of everyday living now. It was well written and the humor and innuendo added much. Highly recommend to anyone who is looking for a few hours of enjoyment as you meet and get to know an hilarious and absurd but also very honest and real group of people that are living their lives as best they can in San Francisco in the 60's.
People are more alike than not, so it is said. Just seems to be more so when listening to this book. The ugly side of humanity has always been a part of us all. Now that side of the human condition seems to have taken hold for the moment lets hope that we can all think about what life felt like when "make love, not war" was our mantra. Unrealistic perhaps, but just a bit if that thinking could go a long way today if included in all our experiences since we were so young and foolish!
I only finished this book because I had a couple of days to wait for my next credit. I did enjoy the 70s references (TAB, macrame plant holders, mood rings, halter tops, etc) and the "main" main character's story is fairly compelling. But the problem was that there are too many main characters and I just found that I wasn't all that interested in most of them. I understand that this book (and at least one of its sequels - there are 7, I think), was made into a miniseries. That makes perfect sense. A miniseries can certainly handle multiple plot lines and multiple main characters. Works great on TV, not so much in book form. At least, not for me. On a positive note, Frances McDormand does a great job as narrator. 1 star - I didn't like it. (4 stars for McDormand)
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