I enjoyed this book a lot and I think what makes it so special are the characters. The author uses his words really sparingly but you get a true sense of who all these people are. Although Mary-Anne is supposed to be the main character (I think), everyone gets equal airtime and their personalities are fleshed out well. I loved Anna Madrigal, the wise landlady, and Michael Mouse on his eternal quest for true love.
You also get a real sense of time. I wasn’t around when the book was set and I’ve never been to the west coast of America, but the whole story was very evocative of this time and place. In some respects it was quite seedy – there’s a whole lot of drugs and no-strings-attached sex – and in other ways it’s really very innocent and naïve. Most of the characters are looking for love, in one way or another, and it was set in a time before AIDS and HIV had appeared.
The book doesn’t have a definite plot as such; instead it’s presented as a series of vignettes, tiny glimpses into the characters’ lives and their interactions with each other. Each chapter is only two or three pages long and gradually they build on how one person’s actions affect other. It kind of feels like a gossip column at times – kind of fluffy and escapist – but still manages to be a good read.
Also it’s worth mentioning that this book was pretty groundbreaking for the time it was written in, featuring characters of a variety of sexualities and gender-identification in a matter-of-fact way.
One of the things I thought was, if not annoying, then certainly bizarre, was how all the characters were intertwined. They don’t start off as friends, or knowing each other at all really, but gradually they all connect through a series of chance meetings and coincidences. The coincidences seemed a bit contrived in some cases. I’ve never been to San Francisco, but I’m assuming that because it’s a city, it’s … you know … big. And that a lot of people live there. So really, what are the chances of that?
Another thing that I found difficult to get on with was the dialogue. Personally – and this is only my opinion - I like to read dialogue interspersed with some actions to make it seem like a real scene.
Okay, here’s what Armistead Maupin does:
“What about San Francisco?"
"What about it?"
"Did you like it?"
She shrugged. "It was O.K."
She laughed. "Good God!"
"You're all alike here."
"How so?" he asked.
"You demand adoration for the place. You're not happy until everybody swears undying love for every nook and cranny of every precious damn --"
"Well, it's true. Can't you just worship it on your own? Do I have to sign an affadavit?"
He chuckled. "We're that bad, are we?"
"You bet your ass you are.”
This happened a lot and I had no idea how much this would irritate me, but it really does! It didn’t feel like a real conversation; it was more like reading a movie script.
I’m not sure if I’ll carry on with this series. I really liked the characters and the plot was left in a good place without a cliffhanger, so I don’t feel any burning need to see what happened next. I also think that some of the innocence and naivity that I liked would, necessarily, be lost in further books because it won’t be long before HIV and AIDS and yuppies rear their heads. Maybe I’ll just leave it where it is.