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Logical Family: A Memoir

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Oct 12, 2017
Logical Family: A Memoir

After his eleven novels (the nine volumes of his celebrated "Tales of the City" series, plus "Maybe the Moon" and "The Night Listener"), Armistead Maupin now turns to autobiography with his new memoir, "Logical Family."

It's a good time for the book, since a new documentary about Maupin has been making this year's GLBT film festivals ("The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin") and a new television series based on "Tales of the City" is reportedly in the works. Timing aside, "Logical Family" turns out to be a charming, gratifying book in many respects. Economical but potent, and light but substantive, Maupin's memoir offers rueful smiles and guffaws of laughter on every page.

The scion of a respectable Southern family, Maupin had a real task ahead of him when he realized that he simply had no romantic interest in women. This realization came to him in spite of his conservative beginnings (which included a stint working at a local newspaper with none other than notorious anti-gay senator Jesse Helms). By the time he shipped out to Vietnam as a member of the Navy, Maupin had won his internal war to the degree that he was picking up men -- including fellow servicemembers -- but coming out of the closet was an entirely different prospect. When Maupin did emerge, however, he did it without much in the way of reservation -- and that's also the way he embraced the other essential part of who he was: A writer.

Maupin plunged into the writing life even before he relocated to San Francisco in the early 1970s for work, but the city sparked something in him. Writing freelance articles and chasing a rumor that the straight habitues of local supermarkets used shopping as a means to pick up sex partners, Maupin uncovered a fascinating urban mating ritual. But the story didn't end up as some sort of semi-anthropological feature; rather, Maupin made it the basis for an early foray into fiction. He created a character that would mirror his own naivete: Mary Ann Singleton. After an abortive weekly serial about Mary Ann and her friends (the newspaper running the serial folded), Maupin ended up writing daily installments of what was to become his "Tales of the City" stories for the San Francisco Chronicle. The rest flowed from there -- much of it due to deadline pressures and the need to spin an endless yarn. Maupin used all sorts of nuggets from his own life and background (including surnames borrowed from his extended family) and wild stories that he'd been told by San Francisco's fascinating denizens. He also learned to be inventive to work out story kinks -- as when, critiqued by a writer for his character D'Orothea, who (the reader said) was "a white woman in black skin," Maupin ran with the observation and revealed that D'Orothea, a model, was indeed a white woman who had darkened her pigmentation in order to capitalize on the tastes current in the fashion industry.

If you go in expecting Maupin to reveal a Who's Who of real-life inspirations for the characters in his "Tales" books, forget it. They are all fictional creations... except maybe for one -- a lover of gay protagonist Michael "Mouse" Tolliver dubbed, in the stories, with a series of dashes instead of a name. This character was evidently modeled on Rock Hudson, with whom Maupin had a relationship, and if there are any "logical family" (as opposed to biological family) given much descriptive space in the memoir, it's Hudson, who was fifty at the time, but whom Maupin deems "magnificent." The book is forthright without being crude or needlessly steamy, but there are a couple of scenes here with the closeted film star that speak to the fear that characterized the times for gays, as well as the human tenderness and friendship that went along with all the era's sex. (There's also a hugely surprising moment, nothing short of wonderful, when Maupin's parents -- his mother already sick with cancer -- pay him a visit in San Francisco. What happens when they meet their son's gay friends is priceless.) Others who might fit the bill for Maupin's "logical family" -- a lover of Milk's named Steve Beery, who became a close friend; Sir Ian McKellen (who, as it turned out, had romanced the same handsome actor who was Maupin's first love); Christopher Isherwood; actress Laura Linney, who played Mary Ann Singleton in the television versions of the first three books in the "Tales" series -- come and go in relatively brief passages that play out almost as asides to the main narrative. When you get down to it, the family Maupin described in this book -- the ones he spends the most emotional energy on in the book's writings -- are his own blood kin. Most wrenching are Maupin's descriptions of his relationship with his younger brother (deep-red conservative, a Rush Limbaugh fan) and a last visit to his aged, frail father - a visit that ends with a poignant note of grace.

Chronologically, Maupin jumps back and forth a bit, as one does when telling a story to friends or over a drink. The tone here is informal, expansive, intimate, and celebratory. At the same time, Maupin doesn't shy from the horrors of the age: AIDS, the assassination of Harvey Milk, Anita Bryant. All of those things are part of the story, after all: His life story, his "Tales of the City," and our story as a community.

"Logical Family" stands not as a footnote, but as a sparkling and revelatory chapter in that overarcing story.


"Logical Family"
by Armistead Maupin
Hardcover
$27.99
https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062391223/logical-family

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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