Book Review: “Sure of You” by Armistead Maupin

Spoilers ahead! 

With a heavy heart, I finished the sixth and final volume of Armistead Maupin’s original Tales of the City series, Sure of You.  Maupin’s focus this time out is at its narrowest, as he carefully chronicles the dissolution of the outrageous family forged at 28 Barbary Lane.

When a face from Mary Ann’s past offers her an unparalleled opportunity to take her career to the next level, it stretches her already thinning connections to husband Brian and adopted daughter Shawna past the breaking point.  Caught in the middle of Mary Ann and Brian’s downward domestic spiral is Michael.  As Mary Ann’s best friend and Brian’s business partner, Michael hesitates to choose sides.  Given his own situation–living with HIV, watching a community die out, and facing the outrage of his activist lover–he contemplates severing ties with both of them.  Elsewhere, Mrs. Madrigal vacations with Mona and wonders if the next phase in her life is waiting beyond her beloved San Francisco.

So, yeah, compared to the naughty romps and silly mysteries of yore, Sure of You is the real downer of the series.  It still features Maupin’s wonderful wit, his precise dialogue, and his thorough characterization.  It’s just so sad to see these beloved characters torn apart like this.  The only one who I didn’t feel completely sorry for was Mary Ann.  Gracefully but frustratingly, Maupin turned her into the antithesis of the Barbary Lane crowd: a self-centered, social climber whose views only got narrower with time.  Tellingly, it winds up being Michael who has the stormiest of partings with her, and not Brian.  Yet it all still feels in character, even if it feels so wrong.

Maupin revisited the Tales characters in two later works, which I plan to read this year; but Sure of You marks the end of the original experiment, which has been one of the most worthwhile reads I’ve ever enjoyed.  If I haven’t already convinced you to pick up these books, I don’t know what else I can do.

~ T

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