Review: “The Days of Anna Madrigal” by Armistead Maupin
Anna Madrigal has become one of the most cherished characters of literature. The beloved former owner of 28 Barbary Lane infamy is more than a landlady to those who lived in her boarding house; she is a living Earth Mother figure. The same way her character has become one to all those who have enjoyed any or all of the Tales of the City series. “The Days of Anna Madrigal” is the final installation following the eight previous novels that started as a series of articles in a San Francisco Paper. From the very beginning of the book it reads exactly like that; a final installment wrapping up of a series readers have come to love.
There are two main story lines present between these pages and, in true Maupin style, the myriad of characters interweave in and out of both of them. The secondary is the getting ready, the getting to, and the celebration of the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert. Michael “Mouse” Tolliver’s younger partner Ben is very excited about the trip. Mouse, being conscious of his own age, is less enthusiastic about camping in the desert for the festival. Shawna Hawkins (Brian’s daughter) is looking forward also with a private agenda of her own. Jake, the transgender gardener and caretaker of Anna Madrigal is anxious to go but determined to bring Anna with them showing the 92-year-old the wonders of Burning Man.
The second story line is more intriguing as it deals with revelations of Anna Madrigal’s past. The free loving landlady was (back then) Andy, the son of Mother Mucca, the no nonsense madam of the Blue Moon Lodge brothel in Nevada. It is here that Andy falls into the throngs of first love and self-discovery. By making the physical journey back to Winnemucca, Anna hopes to revisit her youth, and exorcise the ghosts of her past finally putting them to rest. Most of all she is trying to make amends with not only those left behind, but with her own conscious as well.
All the characters that we’ve come to love have reappeared in one way or another – at least in passing mention if nothing else. “Mouse” has mellowed with age and is enjoying his gardening lifestyle with Ben, the younger man with whom he’s settled down. Brian, the eternal playboy, is back and married to Wren “the most beautiful fat woman in the world” (mentioned in previous adventures of the series), and living a calmer, greener life in a RV park. DeDe Halcyon-Day and D’or are mentioned at being present for Burning Man (although they don’t appear in the book) and have brought Mary Ann [Singleton] along with them. Mary Ann’s appearance is brief and seems a bit out of place for the character, but was necessary for concluding the series. Even Mona Ramsey is mentioned in passing.
Secondary characters mentioned in previous books have come to the forefront in the final installment as well. Wren has lost weight and is developed into a full-fledged character. She easily becomes alive and we see why she is a fit for Brian. Mother Mucca (Anna/Andy’s mother) is shown differently, from the rough-edged, heart-of-gold madam readers met six books ago, and presented harsher, and more as a parental disciplinarian. The prostitute Margaret, who works at The Blue Moon Lodge and read Winnie, the Pooh to Andy as a boy, is definitely brought out into a fuller character. She becomes a mother figure for the confused boy and gives him guidance and the strength Andy needs to find out who he truly is.
The book is enjoyable but it is very clear from the beginning that the author intends to end the series here. While the crossing of characters in storylines has usually been done brilliantly in previous books, this one seems to be a little forced. The tone is a lot calmer than the quick-paced adventures of the first six, (the latter two tended to be on the slower paced side) but all the characters have appropriately grown staying true to their natures – except one that seemed to be thrown in just to avoid future questions. Even in the dramatic parts, there is one section (No spoilers here!) that will have loyal readers holding their breath on the edge of tears, but it also appears to have missed the mark. The storyline would seem to have a harder punch if the ‘happily ever after’ approach wasn’t taken. The ending is wrapped up with a pretty bow with no wondering about what happens to any of the characters next. It’s definitely conclusive, but not overly satisfying.
Eric Andrews-Katz has contributed to several anthologies and is the author of the Agent Buck 98 series. His work can be found at: www.EricAndrewsKatz.com