Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Review - Armistead Maupin's The Days of Anna Madrigal

The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: January 21st, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Anna Madrigal senses her time is coming. She has lived a long and blessed life and has surrounded herself with her logical family, but it might be time to leave them soon. Though there is something in her past, out there in the shadows of the whorehouse where she grew up a he, out in Winnemucca that must be laid to rest before she is. The mass exodus of San Francisco to Nevada takes the disparate souls in different directions. Michael, Ben, Shawna, Jake, and a few surprising others are head to Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert, while Brian, his new wife Wren, and Anna are headed to Winnemucca. Will their journeys be transformative? Anything might happen in a world where we just follow the road laid out before us to the life we're meant to lead.

Even though Barbary Lane is long gone, sold off by Anna Madrigal, returning to the Tales of the City books is like checking in with long lost friends. They might have moved, they might have aged, but they are still your family. While I didn't really discover these books till recent years, I feel like I have known the characters all my life... so it was hard to say goodbye. The truth is, I really don't want to let them go, but I will always admire an author who decides when to end a series properly versus having the decision forced on him by time or circumstances. That being said, I didn't really like the ending because it wasn't really an ending at all. I get that Maupin is trying to mirror life and life doesn't have neat little endings tied up with a bow. But despite the roman à clef nature of these books, they are books. I personally like a little bit of bow tying in my books. Just a little...

Anna Madrigal, that mysterious anagram, has always been the locus of this rag tag group. With her getting ready to go it makes sense that now is the time to let go gracefully, and thankfully for us she gets ready to go in style, unlike the medical crises that marred the endings of the previous two books. We learn more about Anna's past then we ever could have hoped for. She has always been an enigma, little bits and pieces of her life hinted at here and there. While the picture is not complete, there is a feeling that we know all the secrets that she is willing to part with. Also, I love how Maupin handled the infamous anagram. In a strange twist of fate "Anna Madrigal" can be rearranged to form "a man and a girl." This was unintentional on Maupin's part, and while I liked this little take on happenstance giving us an answer, I never thought that this was the real reason for Anna choosing this name. While it might have been felicitous, it never felt like the truth, just another half truth from Mrs. Madrigal's lips. Finding the truth out after all this time... it was satisfying. Perhaps that was my bow...

But what has always made these books appealing to me is that the characters feel like family that are giving you a glimpse of a different life to your own, a chance to connect with different people and experiences, and vicariously live through them, and yes, they do satisfy a deep seeded need of mine to go back to San Francisco. In particular regard to this newest book I'm actually not talking about San Francisco, I'm talking about Burning Man. Sometime when I was in college I first heard about Burning Man, mainly because my friend Orelia was going one year and I vaguely remembered a TA of mine talking about it as well. Seemed like an interesting concept, didn't really leave much impact on me other then I knew a few people who went and loved it. Years have gone by and even more people I know have gone, so, I'm a little more interested, but that's about all, I have a vague idea of what goes on, but other then that, it's peripheral to my life, I'm interested in blog posts about outfits people are making, but, whatever.

Enter The Days of Anna Madrigal. For the first time in my life I get it, I understand Burning Man. Maupin placed me there on the playa with the alkali flats and the dust swirling around me so that I can't even see. I can see why it would appeal to him and how the world created there has the same twists of fate and bizarre coincidences that his world in Tales of the City has always embodied. I also love that it is an event that celebrates creation and makers. Art that is made just to be made, it's the act that is important, not the finished product. This experience I was vicariously living showed me just how opposite this world is to my own. I try to live in a very organized, clean, structured world that relies more on the end result of my labors then the labor itself. I have tried to open myself up to other experiences, art forms, like letterpress, wherein the act of creating is just as important as what you create. But at the end of the day, I liked having this experience from a distance. This is an experience I realized I can do without in my life, much like Michael learned. But am I different from learning about it? Yes I am. But you can call me Couch Lady.


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