Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book Review - Armistead Maupin's Michael Tolliver Lives

Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin
Published by: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: June 12th, 2007
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy
Michael Tolliver has survived. Almost 20 years since he found out he was HIV Positive, he has outlived many who thought they would be burying him. Thack is long gone, but now he has the much younger Ben, who loves Michael not just for his "daddy" status, but for who he is. Anna is still around, though the house on Barbary Lane has been sold. Brian still runs the nursery, having bought Michael out when he decided to do free lance gardening and landscaping. No one has much contact with Mary Ann since her desertion, but her daughter is working in media in the spirit of her mother, though as a sex blogger, versus a television host. These people are Michael's "logical" family, compared to his "biological" family back in Florida which is preparing itself for the death of the matriarch. A strange thing is happening to Michael, in a time when he didn't think he'd see tomorrow, he is now watching those he loves die. From Mona to his mother, the grief others would bear for him is now his own. But with the grief there is a joy. The joy of each day, the joy in finding Ben, the joy in finding some sort of acceptance from his mother, the joy in reconnecting with his brother. When you live in a world where once all was lost, finding these little joys, and sometimes the bigger joys of a threesome, mean everything.

Taking a drastic break from the style of the previous novels in the Tales of the City series, here we don't get vignettes on the characters lives, but we follow Michael in a first person narrative and learn about what has happened to the characters through his revelations and reminiscences. While I applaud Maupin for taking such a risk in diverging from his set tone, I don't think it really works. The reason the Tales of the City books captured me was their humorous take on life flitting from one character to the other and how they all somehow were intertwined in the greater scheme of things. Through triumph and tragedy, we followed that motley crew. Now we have a kind of, this is your life, where Michael goes, "hey, remember Mona, she's dead." It's like little call outs to the past with terse summaries and no development. Instead we find ourselves in a world of aging gay men, where Michael has lucked out and got himself a young'un, but they're perfectly willing to have a very graphic three way. The Mouse of the past, who was scared of the disease he carried, seems now cavalier about sex because apparently everyone assumes everyone is positive. This just seemed a little too tawdry to me, and considering the level it takes to make me squeamish, yeah, this wasn't really expected. But every once in awhile there was a glimpse of the pervious books. With Anna picking out a cat at animal control, because the humane society animals seemed to have it too good. Or in my favorite part, Michael's GPS system which he's named Carlotta, after the mad Carlotta in Vertigo. This being because one time, for no particular reason she said "There is no fifth destination." This non sequitur has now become a phrase of choice in the Tolliver household, and this phrase gives me hope for the next book, Mary Ann in Autumn... because as much as some aspects of this book annoyed me, I need to know what happens to these beloved characters.


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