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Posted on 20 Feb 2014 in Fiction |

ARMISTEAD MAUPIN The Days of Anna Madrigal. Reviewed by Michael Jongen

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annamadrigalWith beautiful symmetry, this novel brings Tales of the City back to where it all began.

The Days of Anna Madrigal brings the Tales of the City to a highly satisfactory and emotional close. I savoured the reading and the comfort of catching up with old friends I have not sat down with for a while. I found myself emotionally entangled: twice I had to put the book down and think through what I had read before I could return to the story. These characters have been with me for many years, since I first read the earlier books in the series. This is true for many readers – of all the books that I have been reading and reviewing, this one drew the most response and interest when I talked about it on Twitter. People connect to the world and the characters that Maupin has created. Loyal readers of the previous eight novels will look forward to seeing what has been going on since they last caught up with Mouse, Mary Ann and Mrs Madrigal.

Over the decades Maupin has also chronicled a lifestyle movement; he has helped shape modern homosexual thought with his understanding of the emotional links that dispossessed LGBTI people forge to support one another through their unorthodox families. He has helped us all to understand the building of the alternative blended family. He has created a series of wonderful characters and plots, with a love of coincidence equal to the work of Dickens. As well as chronicling the LGBTI community, Maupin covers the culture wars, the Reagan era, the Jonestown massacre, AIDS and a lot more. As much as I have enjoyed the whole series, I felt that Maupin’s writing moved up a notch with Michael Tolliver Lives and Mary Ann in Autumn. These were mature stories, where we met Mouse and Mary Ann again as older characters, who looked back and examined their lives and the consequences of their choices. For his finale, Maupin takes us to the 92-year-old Anna Madrigal’s back-story and how she came to acquire her name.

… ‘Okay, then where did Anna Madrigal come from?’

‘Winnemucca,’ said Anna, as if the answer were patently obvious. ‘In more ways than one.’

It occurred to Wren, not for the first time, that Mrs Madrigal enjoyed a good conundrum. Even at this age, with all her cards seemingly on the table, she liked being a woman of mystery.

There is a beautiful symmetry in Maupin’s last instalment being a bildungsroman that brings us back to where it all began. Brian has returned to Barbary Lane to introduce his new wife to Mrs Madrigal and to take her to Winnemucca. In the meantime Michael is persuaded by his husband Ben and his business partner Jake to go to the festival at Burning Man.

As Anna Madrigal attends to her unfinished business in Winnemucca, she senses that Michael needs her and so she, Brian and Wren decide to brave a short cut across to Burning Man. In this novel all roads lead to Burning Man. Shawna, Brian’s daughter, is there as well, and she has a proposition for Michael and Ben. Maupin’s fictional recreation of the festival city shows a marvellous ability to invoke place and sensation:

…  An indigo dust. A breeze tickling the pastel banner. Ben slumped against him, still shirtless and warm. A palpable unwinding.

In this novel Maupin brings us back to the future in the trip to Winnemucca for Mrs Madrigal, who is carried aloft at Burning Man in an homage plotted by Jake:

Then the machine began to move and she heard a squeal of delight from Wren and a manly hoot from Brian and waves of applause – applause! – from the people assembled along the road.  She assumed they were clapping for this wondrous human-propelled creation with its flapping jack-o’-lantern wings until she heard the chants as she moved toward the blazing white ocean of the open desert.

Anna Madrigal, Anna Madrigal, Anna Madrigal …

How on earth did they know?

I caught up with old family; I laughed, I cried … life is tough but we all survive. Our friends are doing all right and their story makes me feel better.

Armistead Maupin The Days of Anna Madrigal Doubleday 2014 PB 288pp $32.99

Michael Jongen is a librarian who tweets as @michael_jongen and microblogs at

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