When I wasn’t hunting down baseball players in Florida, I was reading on the beach. Predictably, I was tearing through another portion of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series, Significant Others. There were some noticeable differences between Significant Others and the previous Tales books, but I think they all served to make the story better.
Significant Others is the first Tales book that does not take place exclusively in San Francisco. For this installment, Maupin’s favorite characters find themselves out in the California wilderness, trying to recapture their counter-culture spirit as the 1980’s hit their peak. What’s most telling is who Maupin chooses to leave behind: Mrs. Madrigal, who is fighting to save her precious Barbary Lane from city developers, and Mary Ann, who has brought shame to them all by becoming the embodiment of the yuppie ethos.
Another change is that while the previous collections had been about these characters searching for relationships, Significant Others is, appropriately, about how these characters sustain them. Brian finds himself growing resentful of Mary Ann’s success, and thinks that a few days apart would benefit them both. So, he accepts Michael’s invitation to stay at a friend’s cabin, even though Michael has also invited his first new love interest since John died. DeDe and D’orothea have a welcome return to the proceedings, as they travel to a comically liberated women’s only retreat where their marriage is put to the test. The rest of the plot is put into motion (and twisted and tangled and overlapped) by some of the best new characters Maupin has yet created to add to the Tales tapestry: Michael’s crush, Thack; DeDe’s step-father, Booter; and Wren Douglas, the world’s most desired plus-size celebrity.
Maupin again strikes the balance of timeless and timely in this work. Significant Others confronts the AIDS crisis head-on, and the tenor of the times informs much of the action. Significant Others is also like the previous Tales novels in that it is compulsively readable, wonderfully written, and hilariously funny.