Friday, May 05, 2006

Stories In Motion

I had read a review of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” in the late 80s. I’m not sure why the name of the author and the book stuck to my memory like a burr – I had until then been unfamiliar with both. The reviewer described Maupin one of the first of a new breed of openly gay authors the appeal of whose stories lay in their inclusiveness.

Having not so much as one non-conformist bone in my body, his comfort and confidence in his “non-mainstream” identity fascinated me. The review included a short excerpt from one of the stories. Reading it left me with something like an unexpected sugar high. I was not nearly satiated and wanted much more. In my little town, the most I could hope to get of a newly published book was its review. The most recent book our local library was published twenty years ago. Of course I got my fill of 18th and 19th century classics but modern literature remained far out of reach. Maupin got added to my long list of “authors I’d love to read if I ever got a chance”.

Last week while browsing aimlessly around the public library, I chanced upon the book and managed to read it over the weekend. Maybe watched (as in watching a movie) describes the reading experience much better. The stories are so visually alive that you want the characters to be on screen instead of on paper. Each chapter could be an episode or a self contained short story. You are satisfied with the denouement for the present and yet stay tuned for more – which is a familiar audience response pattern to a favorite sitcom.

I wondered if the gradual progression of Maupin’s uber-tale through each story made that feeling possible. I compared it to reading a Roald Dahl’s collected short stories - as a reader I am fully satisfied by reading, I feel no need for visual translation to enhance that satisfaction. Each Dahl story is proudly sovereign. It does not depend on the rest to progress a larger theme – there is no larger theme. Whereas Dahl’s is a personal and intimate conversation that you don’t want to be distracted from, you want to “watch” Maupin with food and friends and have a good time.

Whereas Dahl allows a peek into his fantastic world, Maupin is throwing a party that welcomes gate crashers. In summary, a very fun and unusual short story experience. I’m very glad I remembered the name Maupin all these years.

1 comment:

ggop said...

I was fascinated with Tales of the City too. You may also enjoy the critically accalaimed PBS series. Look it up on