10
Nov
07

Is this what Michael Tolliver calls living?

Armistead Maupin may be indispensable for gay men of a certain generation, but he is not a good writer. There. I said it. May I burn forever in the fiery pits of hell.

What made him famous — no, what made him essential was his ability to encapsulate a city and a decade and a moment in gay history, American history, within the pages of his original novels.

Michael Tolliver Lives rides on the coattails of an important literary achievement. But it need not have been written. It reads like an extended epilogue, neatly placing all the characters in their uninteresting fates, betraying the imagination of readers the world over who thought they knew what happened to the inhabitants of 28 Barbary Lane. It’s like one more season of Absolutely Fabulous that gets yet farther away from the characters and the audience and, while it may get the auteur some brief attention and a bit of money, ultimately does a disservice to the original phenomenon of the work that inspired the most recent re-visitation in the first place.

To start with, there’s not much of a plot. It is one of the fastest reads of my life, and the book is kind of boring because, really, nothing happens. Upon turning the last page, I thought: Is that it? The title Michael Tolliver Lives says more than the whole collected 277 pages. If Maupin is trying to make a statement about life — full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? — no thank you. I will just live my own and leave Michael Tolliver’s alone.

The Tales of the City series was at least notable its convoluted plots and excellent character studies. And part of their charm was Maupin’s insistence on placing them in time with very specific cultural references. This time around, however, it is clear that it is he, and not his characters, who are behind the times. There is too much laborious explanation of things that are already quite clear. His dialogue is wooden. Night Listener was a marvelous little novel. This one fell far short of the mark. Maupin would have done better to have left the inhabitants of 28 Barbary Lane back in the late ’80s, where they were relevant and interesting and significant. These days, unfortunately, Michael “Mouse” Tolliver is nothing more than a slightly bitter, self-indulgent, over-sentimental, unfunny, but loquacious shadow of himself.

But at least we know he lives.

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