Some writers create fictional worlds that are seemingly “better” than the “real” ones. The motivations for doing so may vary. Some may wish to replace unpleasant memories of real events with happier memories of fictional events. Others may wish to emphasize harmonious elements to divert attention from the discordant. Regardless of Armistead Maupin’s motives, he has created a likable enough tale of a 55-year-old gay man’s life in 2006 San Francisco. There is place for breezy stories where the conflicts presented may only remotely resemble the conflicts of our real lives. These stories take us away from our daily troubles and throw us in fairy tale land where love is found, held on to, and flawless.
Maupin applies several techniques to draw us into this world. By assembling details common to many middle-aged gay city-dwelling men, such readers can say, “yes, I’ve had that experience.” The author is “one of us” and we open our ears to him. The references to gay culture create the necessary foundation upon which stand idealized versions of lovers and friends, either steadfast or returning. The camaraderie of logical family members taking care of one another adds comfort. A revealed secret about a father’s last sordid act is intended to add drama. A young woman’s sex blog is intended to add spice. Michael Tolliver’s choice to be with the sage Anna Madrigal rather than his mother at their times of need adds humor with the revelation “there is no fifth destination,” and poignancy with his mother holding the photo of Michael and his husband.
The entire package was not a completely satisfying reading experience for me. I would have preferred a grittier plot or more artful writing. The book is redeemed by its humor and its depiction of a small supportive community in a city with people like us.