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Retro Reading: Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin


Supposedly this installment in the Tales of the City series was intended to be a standalone book since Michael is such a popular character. To be truthful, it really shouldn't have been included in the series at all.

Up to this point, the series (along with two previous standalones) were perfect. Yes, it should be considered as a standalone, due to the style of Maupin's writing for this novel, since it's written in the first person. And it really brings down the tone of the story.

Sure, some of the characters from previous installments pop up, but this is Michael's story and basically his alone.

Michael has a new lover in this story, Ben, who's twenty-two years younger and the two have gotten married during a time when same sex marriages were performed for a few days.

He receives news from his older brother, Irwin (who was never mentioned in previous installments) that their mother is dying, and he should come to Florida for a final visit. At first, he doesn't want to, but in the end, he and Ben decide to fly out for a few days.

Upon arriving in Florida, there's an awkward reunion first with Irwin and things seem to ease a little when his sister-in-law Lenore comes home from her Children's Bible Study, where she was doing her puppet ministry with her grandson Sumter. She jumps right into the reunion with not a lot of fanfare, but Michael has a feeling that his great nephew is gay and is hiding it from Irwin.

The next day Lenore takes Michael and Ben to visit Alice and before Ben meets her, he lets Michael spend some alone time with her before he meets her, so he goes with Lenore.

Michael and Alice catch up on the last few years and he notices that Alice isn't all too happy with Lenore. He knows that the two had been thick as thieves, but he can't figure out this change in her attitude. When Ben finally comes into the room, Alice shoos Michael out of the room, and she bonds with Ben.

Alice tells Michael that when her time comes, she doesn't want to be kept alive via machines and draws up the necessary paperwork. He's shocked that she wants Ben to be a witness when it's time to sign the paperwork.

After a few days, Ben and Michael return to San Francisco and a few days later he gets a call from Irwin.

His first thought is that their mother has passed away, but he tells him that he's coming out for a convention but needs to talk to him. He doesn't want to meet at Michael's house but has him meet him at the hotel.

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At the hotel, Irwin manages to get drunk after he tells him that he banished Lenore from the house and that the marriage is over. As Irwin tells him about the separation, Michael tries to put things in perspective and orders him to go back to his room to sleep off the drinks. He tells him that he'll be back later and will take him out for dinner.

When he gets home, he calls his "niece" Shawna and has her set something up with one of the ladies that she works with at The Lusty Lady. She thinks she has an idea of who can take care of Irwin and then he cancels on him.

Irwin returns home and a few days later he gets a phone call that Alice is on her deathbed and while his plane is delayed, he gets a call that Mrs. Madrigal has also been admitted into the hospital following a stroke.

Knowing where he should be, he and Ben go to the hospital and wait with the others while Mrs. Madrigal lies in a coma.

As I stated at the beginning, while this novel focuses solely on Michael, some of the original characters are reintroduced but they aren't around that much. They basically stay around for quick updates on what they're currently up to and then leave the story until being reunited at the end.

With the writing in first person, I felt as the story did drag and in true fashion, the story does have travelling once again with much of the story set in Florida.

Also in this installment, Michael has left the nursery to Brian and he's now doing private gardening with a new partner, Jake Greenleaf, who also lives in the same building with Anna (after having sold 28 Barbary Lane).

While I really didn't like this installment, it was good to catch up on the original characters, but in the next installment, there's a lot more ahead and it returns to the original format of the series.

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