I would so friend Mary Ann Singleton if she really were on Facebook. She was always one of my favorite characters in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City novels, and I loved how Laura Linney played her as the naive newcomer to 1970s San Francisco in the miniseries.
Maupin dedicates Mary Ann in Autumn to Linney, and it’s so easy to see her now as a young-looking 57 returning to San Francisco after 20 years away, realizing once again that your friends can be your family. She’s been hurt and humiliated by her wealthy second husband, and she needs to share some unsettling news with friend, Mouse, aka Michael Tolliver. They’ve been BFFs since before anyone ever used such an expression, back when they lived at 28 Barbary Lane, renting from enigmatic Anna Madrigal, and both were looking for Mr. Right.
So now Mary Ann takes refuge in Michael and his partner Ben’s garden cottage, although young Ben is initially wary. Like Jake, Michael’s transgendered assistant, he thinks Mary Ann is a drama queen, but, as Michael points out “she’s had some actual drama.” And that increases when Ben introduces her to Facebook, and Mary Ann, who thought the past had escaped her, begins reconnecting with “her lost wonderland” ands its quirky residents.
Unlike 2007’s first-person Michael Tolliver Lives!, which resurrected the original six-book series after almost 20 years, Maupin returns to the multi-character perspectives and plots that served him well when Tales began as a newspaper serial. He then cleverly interlocks the charming chapter set pieces — Ben chatting at the dog park, Mary Ann’s estranged adopted daughter Shawna befriending an angry homeless woman, Jake tending to the increasingly frail Anna Madrigal — as if completing a jigsaw puzzle, even as he moves the narrative forward. Readers may well guess at what overall picture will emerge, but that doesn’t take away from his winsome portrait of Mary Ann, Michael and the others facing age and change, regret and redemption. San Francisco, now and then, may be the setting, but Maupin shows his true territory is what he calls “the gender neutrality of the human heart.”
Open Book: I missed a recent high school reunion but have enjoyed catching up with old friends on Facebook. Reading Armistead Maupin’s Mary Ann in Autumn (Harper), which I bought in hardcover for my Tales of the City collection, is like the best Facebook status update ever.