Babycakes takes place two years after Further Tales of the City and of the four books I’ve read in the series this is my least favorite. I understand characters have to grow and evolve, but sometimes you just don’t want them to.
In comparison to the other novels in this series, the novel seems angst ridden and is darker than the previous novels. I’m not sure if this is a direct response to Maupin’s mindset at the time or the general feeling of gloom and doom of San Francisco and the LGBT community at the time. Originally published in 1984, Maupin wrote the tales in Babycakes while Reagan was President of the US and Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the UK and the AIDS crisis was on the horizon (although the Reagan administration didn’t acknowledge it until 1987).
Although this darkness was part of the reason I didn’t enjoy this novel as much as the seemingly careless frivolity in the other novels, it is part of what makes it so important to literature in general. I’ve read in multiple places that Babycakes is general viewed as one of the first novels to deal with the AIDS crisis. This is due to the original serialization of the ‘tales’ and therefore the quick turn around publishing time.
Politics aside, this novel, like the others in the series, includes at least one death. The difference is this novel begins with a death. To me it is more tragic, as it occurs between novels and you don’t find out why the character died until about a third of the way through the novel. I liked the character that died. I hate how their death impacts the other characters, especially Michael.
But even with the death, what irked me most about the novels were the moody teenager-like personalities of Mona (she’s back), Michael (he does have a legitimate reason), and Mary Ann (it’s complicated). I feel that all of these characters are in their mid-to-late 30s and they really should not be having these whiny episodes. I mean I understand things happen in life which would throw anyone for a loop, but by the end of the novel I was incredibly annoyed and frustrated and ready to put the book down and praying that the next novel would be more exciting.
The most exciting thing about this novel was the culmination of a few of the lingering minor character’s stories throughout the series. Although Maupin introduces new characters each time, sometimes it feels like he’s forgotten to wrap up a character’s story and then they randomly appear again and he wraps them up conveniently. And Babycakes is now exception – especially in the last ten pages!
Recommendation: Read it. It’s part of a great series and I’m hoping the next few will be better!