Nostalgia can be dangerous. It makes us ask old friends to visit before we remember what made us distance ourselves from them to begin with; it keeps us wearing shoulder pads and leg warmers well past 1985; and it imbues otherwise average memories with the glow of legend. But once in a while, nostalgia proves itself a brilliant historian and returns us to the best of our pasts without losing any of its luster. Armistead Maupin's Michael Tolliver Lives is nostalgia at its sweetest, and yet manages to be as current and even, yes, as occasionally shocking, as his original Tales of the City, the groundbreaking series first published in the 1970s. Maupin reintroduces us to Michael Tolliver, the beloved Mouse, and moves us easily into his world of gay middle-age in a San Francisco that he still writes about with obvious love and tenderness.
Michael, diagnosed with HIV in the Tales series, is very much alive thanks to modern pharmaceuticals, and is in love with his husband, Ben, a much younger version of himself: beautiful, kind and enamoured of romance. Maupin again peoples his tale with a cast of lovable, flawed and sexually open or repressed characters, and he presents it all with a wit, compassion and confidence undiminished by time. Like many of us nearing a certain age, Michael must come to terms with his family, though determining which one will eventually win his time and devotion his religious relatives in Florida dealing with an imminent death or his diverse made family in San Francisco is a poignant struggle with which many readers will identify. His final decision is heart-wrenching, believable and sadly appropriate.
Maupin never cheats us by making a petulant point of not bringing back favored characters from the Tales series (yes, the delightful Mrs. Madrigal is here), but it never feels like a simple catching up on old times book, either. Maupin's latest story is as fresh and engaging as the originals, and I am grateful that he has chosen to grace us with another beautifully written, stylish and respectful tale.
Kristy Kiernan is an author living in Naples, Florida, which Maupin briefly skewers in Michael Tolliver Lives. He is happily forgiven.