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Tales of the City: A Novel

Tales of the City: A Novel

3.9 77
by Armistead Maupin

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For almost four decades Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City has blazed its own trail through popular culture—from a groundbreaking newspaper serial to a classic novel, to a television event that entranced millions around the world. The first of nine novels about the denizens of the mythic apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane, Tales is


For almost four decades Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City has blazed its own trail through popular culture—from a groundbreaking newspaper serial to a classic novel, to a television event that entranced millions around the world. The first of nine novels about the denizens of the mythic apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane, Tales is both a sparkling comedy of manners and an indelible portrait of an era that forever changed the way we live.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Mary Ann Singleton was twenty-five years old when she saw San Francisco for the first time.

That's the opening of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, a collection of stories from the 1970s about the fictional residents of 28 Barbary Lane: Mary Ann the midwestern naïf, Mona the free spirit, Michael the romantic, and Brian the swinger, all of them looked after by the benevolent landlady Mrs. Madrigal.

A late bloomer, I was in my 29th year when I first saw San Francisco.

Well, there was that daylong stopover one family vacation. Not that there was much to remember, except the crowds at Fisherman's Wharf and when Dad, at the wheel of the rental car, terrified Mom as he tore down Lombard roaring, "It's the crookedest street in the world!"
I was a teenager and determined not to be impressed by anyone or anything, and I was too busy rolling my eyes the whole time to see much of the place.
Fifteen years later, however, I landed at San Francisco International Airport, alone this time and sick of New York, intent on seeing as much as I could—in particular, what of Maupin's San Francisco might have survived the rise and fall of roller disco.

Tales of the City is a soap opera, but it's not merely Melrose Place in bell-bottomed pants. There's something touchingly familiar about these characters navigating contemporary urban life and the onset of adulthood. They may have rotten jobs, too little money, and too much heartbreak, but they have a family at 28 Barbary Lane. And if TheMary Tyler Moore Show (to invoke another '70s icon) taught us anything, it's that family-where-you-find-it is what keeps you going when you're going it alone.

You're gonna make it after all, Mary Ann Singleton.

It was a sunny, warm August day when I arrived, though my friends in town kept insisting that the fog would roll in, any minute now, really. But I wasn't having any of it, and neither was the Bay. I had rubber-soled shoes (those hills, you know) and directions to the "real" Barbary Lane, or rather its alleged inspiration. It was on Russian Hill. Finding the street, Macondry Lane, was a challenge for a New Yorker used to a consistent street grid and generally horizontal movement. I finally found a shady garden path lined with paving stones and branches of long green leaves, small houses on either side. I was astounded. This was an oasis, an impossibility in the middle of the modern city. It was something out of a storybook. It was quiet and peaceful. It smelled really good. There was no real street there, not in any sense of a street as I'd ever understood it. It was nothing like my block in Manhattan, where buses rumble by and car alarms whoop it up. You couldn't fit a Yugo onto Macondry Lane, and that seemed just perfect. This was the street where you live, not the street where you drive.
I wondered briefly how anyone could be unhappy there, even Mary Ann while she was having her disastrous affair with the heartless Beauchamp Day, Michael while he was nursing a heart decimated by a handsome gynecologist, or Mona when she was freaking out over being, well, Mona. I knew I was being naive. San Francisco was still a city with traffic and garbage and poverty. And I knew that troubles still find their way even into the most picturesque place. I just have this habit of thinking, when I'm somewhere extraordinary, that maybe this is just what I need. Why do I subject myself to New York? But something about Macondry Lane did make me think: Maybe I can live like this. Maybe it's not an impossibility after all. A real-life resident wandered out of his house to water his miniature garden, and I shyly hid my camera, feeling like an intruder. I walked the length of the block and down the long wooden steps at the end, back into a more typical urban scene. I left San Francisco determined to come back as soon as possible, maybe to stay. I returned halfheartedly to my life in New York, my job, and my noisy street. Autumn was beautiful in New York this year, unusually warm and sunny. My friends were here, and I found myself maybe a little more relaxed after my trip than I had been before. Something from that moment on Russian Hill must have stayed with me. As the months went by, I thought less and less about moving. It would be more hassle than I really wanted, hauling my belongings across the continent. But it also seemed to me, after a while, that Barbary Lane might be wherever you happen to build it.—Kristen Mirenda
The Times (London)
An unprecedented portrait of the agonies and absurdities of modern urban life. The funniest series of novels currently in progress.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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4.50(w) x 7.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Tales of the City

A Novel
By Armistead Maupin

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Armistead Maupin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061358302

Chapter One

Taking the Plunge

Mary Ann Singleton was twenty-five years old when she saw San Francisco for the first time.

She came to the city alone for an eight-day vacation. On the fifth night, she drank three Irish coffees at the Buena Vista, realized that her Mood Ring was blue, and decided to phone her mother in Cleveland.

"Hi, Mom. It's me."

"Oh, darling. Your daddy and I were just talking about you. There was this crazy man on McMillan and Wife who was strangling all these secretaries, and I just couldn't help thinking . . ."

"Mom .

"I know. just crazy ol' Mom, worrying herself sick over nothing. But you never can tell about those things. Look at that poor Patty Hearst, locked up in that closet with all those awful

"Mom . . . long distance."

"Oh . . . yes. You must be having a grand time."

"God . . . you wouldn't believe it! The people here are so friendly I feel like I've ...

"Have you been to the Top of the Mark like I told you?" "Not yet."

"Well, don't you dare miss that! You know, your daddy took me there when he got back from the South Pacific. I remember he slipped the bandleader five dollars, so we could dance to 'Moonlight Serenade,' and I spilled Tom Collins all over his beautiful white Navy . . ."

"Mom, I want you to do me a favor."

"Of course, darling. Just listento me. Oh . . . before I forget it, I ran into Mr. Lassiter yesterday at the Ridgemont Mail, and he said the office is just falling apart with you gone. They don't get many good secretaries at Lassiter Fertilizers."

"Mom, that's sort of why I called."

"Yes, darling?"

"I want you to call Mr. Lassiter and tell him I won't be in on Monday morning."

"Oh . . . Mary Ann, I'm not sure you should ask for an extension on your vacation."

"It's not an extension, Mom."

"Well, then why ...

"I'm not coming home, Mom."

Silence. Then, dimly in the distance, a television voice began to tell Mary Ann's father about the temporary relief of hemorrhoids. Finally, her mother spoke: "Don't be silly, darling."

"Mom . . . I'm not being silly. I like it here. It feels like home already."

"Mary Ann, if there's a boy

"There's no boy.... I've thought about this for a long time."

"Don't be ridiculous! You've been there five days!"

"Mom, I know how you feel, but . . . well, it's got nothing to do with you and Daddy. I just want to start making my own life . . . have my own apartment and all."

"Oh, that. Well, darling . . . of course you can. As a matter of fact, your daddy and I thought those new apartments out at Ridgemont might be just perfect for you. They take lots of young people, and they've got a swimming pool and a sauna, and I could make some of those darling curtains like I made for Sonny and Vicki when they got married. You could have all the privacy you . . ."

"You aren't listening, Mom. I'm trying to tell you I'm a grown woman."

"Well, act like it, then! You can't just . . . run away from your family and friends to go live with a bunch of hippies and mass murderers!"

"You've been watching too much TV."

"O.K. . . . then what about The Horoscope?"


"The Horoscope. That crazy man. The killer."

"Mom . . . The Zodiac."

"Same difference. And what about . . . earthquakes? I saw that movie, Mary Ann, and I nearly died when Ava Gardner . . ."

"Will you just call Mr. Lassiter for me?"

Her mother began to cry. "You won't come back. I just know it."

"Mom . . . please . I will. I promise."

"But you won't be . . . the same!"

"No. I hope not."

When it was over, Mary Ann left the bar and walked through Aquatic Park to the bay. She stood there for several minutes in a chill wind, staring at the beacon on Alcatraz. She made a vow not to think about her mother for a while.

Back at the Fisherman's Wharf Holiday Inn, she looked up Connie Bradshaw's phone number.

Connie was a stewardess for United. Mary Ann hadn't seen her since high school: 1968.

"Fantabulous!" squealed Connie. "How long you here for?"

"For good."

"Super! Found an apartment yet?"

"No . . . I . . . well, I was wondering if I might be able to crash at your place, until I can

"Sure. No sweat."

"Connie . . . you're single?"

The stewardess laughed. "A bear shit in the woods?"


Excerpted from Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin Copyright © 2007 by Armistead Maupin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Edmund White
A consummate entertainer who has made a generation laugh...It is Maupin's Dickensian gift to be able to render love convincingly.
Amy Tan
An enormously talented writer—witty but always sympathetic, generous in showing us the secrets of his heart...By writing about what's seemingly different Armistead Maupin always manages to capture what's so hilariously painfully true for all of us.

Meet the Author

Armistead Maupin is the author of the nine-volume Tales of the City series, which includes Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City, Babycakes, Significant Others, Sure of You, Michael Tolliver Lives, Mary Ann in Autumn, and now The Days of Anna Madrigal. Maupin's other novels include Maybe the Moon and The Night Listener. Maupin was the 2012 recipient of the Lambda Literary Foundation's Pioneer Award. He lives in San Francisco with his husband, the photographer Christopher Turner.

Brief Biography

San Francisco, California
Date of Birth:
May 13, 1944
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Tales of the City 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 77 reviews.
haolewrites More than 1 year ago
This novel brilliantly withstands the test of time...as amazing and as engaging as the first time I read it lo those many years ago. This ebook version, however, is riddled with a massive number of typos. It looks as if someone at Harper Collins simply scanned a past edition with OCR and did not proof-read a single page to catch when the OCR couldn't figure out the characters. Some pages can have 5 or 6 typos and nearly every other page has a typo (even the chapter headers). Maupin's classic deserves better treatment.
Guest More than 1 year ago
They're beautiful, they're sexy, the're fun, and they're taking the sexual revolution farther than ever. In the middle of the hippest city in America (San Francisco), the wild residents of 28 Barbary Lane are living the Frisco hi-life to the fullest! Here you'll find the bohemian best: men and women, lovers and strangers, gays and straights, all of them ready to help each other out of a jam with a quick laugh and some good (though not always legal) advice. Now their hands are REALLY full. The carefree chaos revoves around the funky old apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane when landlady Anna Madrigal welcomes tenants by taping homegrown joints to their doors and presides over their lives with an almost maternal affection. Armistead Maupin's first bestseller (of a six part series of novels). Others include 'More Tales of the City', 'Further tales of the city' 'Babycakes', 'Significant others', 'Sure of you', 'Only the moon' and the final chapter 'Night Listner'. I caught on to this writer, while watching the Showtime based miniseries on it. What I like about this book (and from what I've seen on his other books) is the story line and the way the book is written. The chapters are brief, basicly telling a short story. So those with A.D.D as I, can appreciate it more. Mary Anne Singleton, is the reader's point of entry. You go in with her, seeing through her eyes the crazy and at times chaotic 'world' that was San Fransisco in the 70's. Topics such as Vietnam,Whorehouses,Drugs,Religon and Sexual freedom are all covered. It may seem trashy, but in the end it was a section of a time where everyone was a bit lost. Anne Madrigal, the Slum Lord (she calls her self a Slum Lady) is indeed the best charachter i've seen yet. Motherly, yet a rebel. She has a very...um earthy garden! Can't say alot more than that in case you may want to read it. In fact, if you have time pick it up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My brother who lives in Australia sent me the comlete series of the saga. As i started to read the first book, i found that i couldn't put the book down and quickly read the rest of the books. I found that i was almost living the lives of each character in the book. I would recomend this series of books to anyone, it really is good reading. Another good book to read is Maybe The Moon.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very entertaining reading, esp for anyone who may have nostalgia for the 70s and San Francisco in the 70s in particular. I was a child in the 70s so most of the pop-culture references were beyond me, but the stories were still fascinating and fun to read--probably because Mary Ann is an outsider too. Thank goodness. These were originally serialized in a newspaper, which explains why the tales never seem to get anywhere. As a book, it doesn't conclude; I guess one just has to keep reading the whole Tales of the City series...
Guest More than 1 year ago
This first book in the series of six introduces the reader to an eclectic cast of characters. What follows from there takes you on a rollercoaster ride of exciting adventures, and emotional experiences. Maupin has an incredible talent for sucking the reader into the lives of the tenants of 28 Barbary Lane and keeping them there. Everyone that I have suggested this book to has devoured the entire six novels. I strongly recommend the entire Tales of the City series to anyone who loves to get caught up in the lives of a quirky bunch of people, and then be surprised where they end up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Did the author really need to damn God every few sentances? Are readers supposed to be impressed with cursing? This is a fun, lively little book, but would have been much better without the attempt to 'wow' readers with profanity. It took away from the truly delightful talent the author has for developing humor in endearing characters. Too bad.
Nathan_Dunbar More than 1 year ago
I'm not usually one for serial drama, but this story quite surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. Maupin showed us the pulse of the late 70s through his vivid character development and intertwining story lines. The best part? We came to know Mary Ann, Michael, Anna and the gang not through chapters full of background, but by listening to them weave their own tales for us.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was fun to read and made me laugh. It's also a bit of a mystery story which kept me reading. Ready to order more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best fiction i have read in ages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story is very dated, celebrity and pop culture references fall flat if the seventies wasn't your time. Other than that, it just really didn't capture my interest, the characters were too predictable, and the story line was weak.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i'm about halfway through this book and i already don't like it. i don't even really think of it as a novel; it seems more like a play. there's constant inane dialogue between insipid and unlikable characters. and a lot of the time the characters are cut-off in mid-sentence by another character and you're left thinking, 'what were they going to say?' the storyline itself seems schizophrenic. the chapters are at most 2 pages long, so once you've gotten into 1 storyline, you're switched to another one, and then another after a possible 2 more pages. it all seems very confusing and soap-opera(ish). also, you don't get any insight into what the characters are thinking; just what they are saying. they seem very 2-dimensional: self-centered, shallow, conceited, etc. and as of yet, there's no backstory/exposition into these characters' pasts. this might have made a good mini-series, but it makes a boring book.
kimikimi More than 1 year ago
Brilliantly serialized for television (Olympia Dukakis ROCKS!), you simply have to read the entire series that follows.  While I believe Maupin could have written as brilliantly about anything he chose, he followed the prime directive... write what you know.  I have not read the eBook version and I'm sorry to hear that it has  been so badly handled compared to the original hard copy books but, nonetheless, I can't believe that the addictive, brilliant and insightful look at these characters not all of whom are LGBT (just for the prejudiced among you), will not shine through.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
still an enjoyable book, and wonderful character development. wound up wondering what happens to them, so i bought the next in the series
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Respond to james if interested
Deb-MT More than 1 year ago
Very dated- only interesting and understandable for baby-boomer hippies.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not finish this book. It was very boring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this years ago, and was inspired to read it again. I must say the characters are still as dear to me now as they were those many years ago. A classic which I highly recommend!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
goldenbear89 More than 1 year ago
Beware. Once you start reading this series, you will be hooked! I spent my vacation lying in a hammock reading this one and went on to search for additional books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DesertReaderAZ More than 1 year ago
I grew up in the Bay Area and read this book before and it takes me back to this era, with fond memories of a nicer friendlier time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was not what I expected but a good read anyway. Interesting characters and story line.