Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin

I didn't read the first book until thirty-two years after it was published. I read the eighth, and most recent, book just five months later, never having read any of the stories in between. Cause that's just the kind of disordered, non-conformist I am, that's why.

The story began in 1976, when Mary Ann Singleton, twenty-five-year-old secretary from Cleveland, shocked her parents by moving to San Francisco. At some point in those intermediate stories, she left her husband and adopted daughter to pursue a tv career in New York. Twenty years later, she returns to San Francisco and the comfort of old friends to deal with the recent break-up of her second marriage, and a cancer diagnosis (Don't worry - not a spoiler - that's in the first chapter.)

When I reviewed the first book, I was struck by the common goal of the characters. Regardless of age, race, income or sexual orientation, each was searching for genuine love and acceptance - a human connection. That theme continues, but with a dose of second chances and a twist of age-related wisdom.  Life is all about the relationships! 

"It all goes so fast, she thought. We dole out our lives in dinner parties and plane flights, and it's over before you know it. We lose everyone we love, if they don't lose us first, and every single thing we do is intended to distract us from that reality." 

There is a children's book by Karen Kingsbury called Let Me Hold You Longer, about how parents savor their children's firsts - first steps, first words - but the lasts often pass by without a sound or a nod. I don't remember the last time one of my children ran to me to be picked up, or the last time I took them to school. (I recommend that every mother read it regardless of their children's age - but, seriously, get a fistfull of Kleenex first.)

That book came to mind as I read, watching Mary Ann learn that the same lesson applies to friends. We let friendships slide. Life gets in the way, visits and calls become fewer and fewer until they are gone. As she remembers her friend, Mona, who died of breast cancer a few years earlier, she admonishes herself, "There was another one she had carelessly lost forever,without even knowing the actual moment she had lost her."

I don't know if this volume is intended to be the final Tale of the City, but I felt like I caught up with the characters (or them with me?).  We all ended in the same place - with some things, regretfully, finished and some new possibilities just beginning.

Amistead Maupin's writing is a treasure chest of quotes you want to remember.  Here are the ones that made my Favorite Quotes notebook:

Shawna: "I just don't understand, that's all."
Anna: "Understand what?"
Shawna: "Why the universe hands me such random shit."
Anna: "Sometimes the universe has a slow day."

"DeDe never claimed to be hip, and really didn't care who knew it."

On receiving a compliment:  "Mary Ann laughed, "You're a shamless liar." But such a lovely friend, she thought." (Isn't that the perfect description of a girlfriend?)

On visiting a clothing-optional beach:  "I just don't think that people my age should be inflicting their naked selves on the landscape. It's not generally appreciated. It's the same reason I don't litter."

On traveling through a mountain pass in a snowstorm:  "He was going forty-five around a bend where thirty-five had been suggested, and she'd just caught a glimpse of the gaping chasm beyond the road, the instant oblivion that some people liked to call a View."

And my personal favorite:

As Mary Ann regrets the broken relationship with her daughter, Mrs. Madrigal consoles: "Daughters, you'll find, are surprisingly retrievable."


  1. I love people who read series books out of order because it seems to be a habit of mine too. It kind of mixes up the whole order of things in a general good way.

    I just received an adult fiction of Karen Kingsbury for review. It looks pretty good and now that I know a little bit more about her, I'm interested even more.

  2. Aw man - I just remembered Maupin's first book recently and how blown away I was by the characters and the lives they led. I have vowed to re-read and had no idea there were this many to look forward too!!! YAY :0)