Newspaper article International New York Times

Tales' End: A Reunion of Sorts

Newspaper article International New York Times

Tales' End: A Reunion of Sorts

Article excerpt

Armistead Maupin concludes his series "Tales of the City" with a reunion of the tribe.

The Days of Anna Madrigal. By Armistead Maupin. 270 pages. Harper. $26.99.

In the mid-1970s, the managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle kept a chart in his office with two columns: "heterosexual" and "homosexual." Whenever a new character appeared in "Tales of the City" -- the newspaper's fiction serial by Armistead Maupin, which begat a stack of popular novels -- the name was slotted accordingly.

"He was making sure that the gay characters didn't overtake the straight characters and thereby undermine civilization," Mr. Maupin said in 2012 at an appearance at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

The chart didn't last. (When Mr. Maupin insisted on filing Faust, the series's randy Great Dane, under "heterosexual," his editor scrapped it.) Yet "Tales of the City" endured. Mr. Maupin's novels followed the same bohemian tribe from the sexual revolution of the 1970s through the AIDS epidemic of the '80s and then, after an 18- year hiatus, into a postmillennial San Francisco reshaped by the tech industry. Along the way, he earned the ire of antigay conservatives -- in 1994, a "Tales" mini-series was condemned by lawmakers on the floors of the Georgia, Oklahoma and South Carolina legislatures. He also gained an international cult following.

The series's ninth and final novel, "The Days of Anna Madrigal," arrives this week. It spotlights one of Mr. Maupin's most beloved characters: the spliff-smoking, wisecracking transgender landlady who presided over 28 Barbary Lane through most of "Tales." Her tenants became a sort of "logical" -- rather than "biological" -- family.

When the novel opens, Anna, 92, can't even light a candle without her younger roommate, the transgender gardener Jake Greenleaf, fretting she'll fall asleep and burn the house down. When Jake stops Anna from accidentally incinerating the LED candle he bought to appease her, she intones, "I have bade farewell to flame."

Making "such small surrenders" with dignity is part of what Anna calls "leaving like a lady." The other part? …

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