I first read Tales of the City for a class my final year of undergrad. It was for a course on the History of Sexuality. I clearly didn’t pay too much attention, as Maupin apparently grew up in North Carolina and attended my university (UNC Chapel Hill).*
The tales originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle as a serialization and this makes them incredibly readable. And although this is a great thing, it’s also a bad thing. If you read this series you will constantly keep telling yourself, one more section (most sections are at most three pages), and next thing you know the book is almost finished and it’s 1:00am.
Tales of the City serves as the introduction to the core characters of the series (the first three novels at least) and they are a varied bunch of characters. From Mary Ann Singleton and Michael Tolliver leaving their small town lives in Cleveland and Florida, respectively, to Anna Madrigal and her secret, to Dede (Halcyon) Day and her not-so-straight husband Beauchamp Day, all of the characters of these tales are unique and well written. You always want to know more, but Maupin is a master of only revealing so much and intertwining all of the stories to engage the reader.
Each of the novels does have a dark twist and I forgot about the twist in this novel, even with a mention of it in Further Tales of the City, but when it came back to me I started to read much faster to get to the details I couldn’t remember! In addition to the twists, Maupin also does a great job of chronicling current events. As these began as a newspaper serial, he incorporates current events which highlight the time period and make for dramatic juxtapositions as the novels progress.
Recommendation: READ THEM!!!!! (It’s in bold I enjoyed them all that much.) If soap operas were books – they would be like the Tales of the City series—everyone is loosely connected in this small neighborhood of a city.
*I did however pay enough attention to realize that something my professor pointed out wasn’t as obvious as he made it appear. (I’m not going to say what it is, but it’s not explicitly revealed until More Tales of the City.)