Tales of the City
"San Francisco, 1976. A naïve young secretary, fresh out of Cleveland, tumbles headlong into a brave new world of laundromat Lotharios, pot-growing landladies, cut throat debutantes, and Jockey Shorts dance contests. The saga that ensues is manic, romantic, tawdry, touching, and outrageous - unmistakably the handiwork of Armistead Maupin."
Sometimes, things just work out perfectly. I got this book through World Book Night, a charity event which aims to give out 1 million free books to non-readers to promote the joy of reading. I gave away my copies to my colleagues, friends and family and kept a copy to read so that I can discuss the book with them after they’ve read it. The thing was, this wasn’t the book I’d asked for, this was actually my second choice. I was pretty annoyed, but, ten pages in to Tales of the City, I’d forgotten what my first choice was even called. This book is amazing.
The book sees Mary Anne Singleton arrive in San Francisco, determined to start a new life and mature. She gets an apartment at 28 Barbary Lane and the rest of the book deals with her and the other Barbary Lane residents’ adventures and interactions.
The book is a tapestry of connections and coincidences, all of the characters’ lives intersect in a similar manner to films like Shortcuts or Magnolia. Many of the cast are unaware of how they’re lines intersect with those of the other characters and the reader is left to make sense of the connections and keep track of everyone.
I love stories like this, and took immense joy in piecing together how all the cast knew each other, keeping track of everyone in a mental map.
The problem with books with large casts is usually that, there are characters you love and characters you can’t stand. However, I was amazed and overjoyed to find that this didn’t apply here at all. There were certainly characters I liked more than others, but there wasn’t a single one I didn’t love reading about, no sections of the book I wished could be over. Even the characters that don’t appear until the last third of the book were never overshadowed by those I’d spent more time with.
The characters are all fantastic, but they’re backed up by Maupin’s fantastic writing style. Short chapters allow the reader to jump from character to character every few pages meaning none overstay their welcome. The writing also relies heavily on Maupin’s spot on dialogue while descriptive passages are kept to a minimum. This also keeps the pace up, keeping it from ever lagging. It’s a fantastic style and exactly the kind of writing that I love.
This book falling into my lap was a stroke of luck and I couldn’t be happier. The fact that it’s the first entry in a nine book series just makes it all the more exciting. I can’t wait to dive into the rest of Maupin’s chronicle of the residents of Barbary Lane.
It’s a wonderful, rich novel, one I was genuinely sad to finish. Dunno if there’s much higher a compliment than that really…