Review: Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin

Title: Michael Tolliver Lives

Author: Armistead Maupin

Publisher: Black Swan (2008)

ISBN: 978-0-552-77293-8

This book fills readers in on what’s happened to the Barbary Lane crew from Maupin’s Tales of the City series since last we heard from them in 1990’s Sure of You. As the title suggests Michael (or Mouse as he was known in the early books) didn’t die as a result of AIDS as we might have assumed would happen given where the last book left off. Instead as the book opens Michael’s been married for a few years to Ben, Anna Madrigal is still the centre of an odd but loving family and there have been an assortment of hatches, matches and dispatches. As the book goes forward Michael deals with the things that happen when you’re in your late 50’s.

I thoroughly enjoyed the early books in this series but this one didn’t engage me in the same way. Perhaps it’s partly because in the intervening 18 years I’ve changed and am not so taken with the soap opera-ish style of the book but that’s only part of the story. This book simply isn’t as good as its predecessors. It lacks the wonderful sense of the absurd that the early books incorporated and is far too full of worthy messages to be entertaining. I don’t know if he was trying to push some kind of envelope or achieve something else but all the endless details of Michael’s sex life did for me was induce boredom. They certainly didn’t do a heck of a lot to advance what plot there was. If you take out the sex scenes and the passages that repeat events from the previous books there’s not a heck of a lot of story left and the characters are all very under-developed.

When news of this book first surfaced Maupin insisted it wasn’t the 7th book in his famous series even though it featured a key character, referenced many events from the series and caught us up with all the original characters. Eventually he was forced to concede the book is part of the series but his reluctance to do so sums up what’s wrong with this book. It’s trying to be too many things at once and doesn’t successfully achieve any of them. He either needed to jump right in and update the series in the same style as the original books or write something completely separate (which he’s perfectly capable of doing as The Night Listener indicates). The sequel you have when you’re not having a sequel didn’t work for me.

My rating 2/5

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