Warning: There be spoilers here…
My summer reading wouldn’t be complete without another trip down Barbary Lane. I just finished mowing through Further Tales of the City, the third volume in Armistead Maupin’s addictive series. In this collection, which begins a few years after the previous one, the adventures of Mary Ann, Michael, and all the others in Mrs. Madrigal’s tangled web are more over-the-top and dangerous than ever.
Initially, I was resistant to this new tone in Further Tales. I thought it was alternately melodramatic and morbid; but when looked at as part of a wider canvas, Maupin’s moves are justified. The element of the (sac)religious that came with the previous mystery of Burke Andrew is continued here with the mystery of Luke and the secrets DeDe is keeping from everyone. Despite the grand heights to which the adventure climbs this time out, the pages keep turning, largely because Maupin keeps his characters grounded. Yes, some of it is almost kitsch or camp; but then again, so are the residents of 28 Barbary Lane.
While the mysteries and adventure plots had their excitements, they did take time away from Maupin’s beloved principal characters and their revealing interactions with each other. Mary Ann and Brian’s relationship evolves slowly, in new and interesting ways, before DeDe whisks her away. When she finally returns, things get tied up too neatly. Maupin similarly dodges bullets with Michael at first, sending him off on a pointless trip to Hollywood, where he meets a silver screen legend who is not all his fans believe him to be. Like Mary Ann and Brian, when Michael reaches his epiphany, it comes a bit too conveniently. My biggest gripe is that some of the other Tales characters have been phased out (most noticeably and infuriating, Mona) and their replacements pale in comparison (clueless Prue and the two-dimensional self-parody that is Father Paddy).
Nevertheless, I continue to recommend the Tales of the City series to others, and will get around to reading the subsequent volumes before too long.