Alan Taylor talks to the Wickedly funny . Armistead Maupin.
Significant Others is the fifth instalment of Armistead Maupin's episodic "l'ales of the City" saga and the first to be published in hardback in this country. If popular recognition has come slowly for one ofthe funniest writers this side ofthe San Andreas Fault the gay cognoscenti have hung on his every word ever since his pieces began appearing in the San Francisco
( ’hronit‘le at the tail-end of the Seventies. ()n the dustwrapper of the new novel (‘hristopher lsberwood. Ian McKellen and David Hockney have rented out quotes which would give less modest talents trouble squeezing through a door. He has been compared to Proust. P. (i. Wodehouse. Rabelais. Tom Wolfe -- to name but the most contrasting — and. of course. Dickens. one of the few writers to have faced a daily deadline without blanching. But Maupin is. above all. his own man. a gay activist with a foot in both catnps who writes not for the gay ghetto but for the widest possible audience.
‘I don't consider them to be gay books.’ he says firmly. ‘in the sense that they are just about and for gay people. I don’t mind answering to the label “gay writer" because I‘m gay and I'm a writer and I spend a lot of time devoting myselfto gay rights' causes. But the books are deliberately ecumenical. I think they're so popular with gay people because they place gay people in the context of the world at large. they give them a setting of friends who are not all gay.‘
Significant Others is typical of his style. In short. frothy bursts, not much more than 1000 words long, Maupin depicts the zany. let‘s-get-it-together lifestyle of San Francisco: hedonistic. health-conscious. well-heeled. Aids wary and plain loopy. Characters from the prequels make welcome reappearances — househusband Michael ‘Mouse‘ 'I'olliver. his wife and hostess of the bitchy chat show 'Entertainment Tonight‘. Mary Ann
Singleton. gay Brian. esbian lovers. DeDe Halcyon and D‘()r(othea). and Booter— but there‘s also a phalanx of memorable new faces to freshen up the fortnula. most notably pillow-busted Wren Douglas. who writes dirty and practises what she prints. Each is memorably depicted and while Maupin is not averse to poking fun at each and any of them —- gay and straight alike — his is feather-dustered satire and his affection for his creations is patent.
The locale is that peculiar American institution. the summer camp. The sexes separate into their own backwoods. the lesbians to the authoritarian Wimminwood where they go topless and attend classes in ‘Body and Facial Hair: In slides. stories and song‘. while Booter checks in at the Bohemian Grove to give the lowdown on the Strategic Defence Initiative. It‘s a strictly segregationist setup and while Armistead Maupin concedes that while the sexes need time out from one another. when the rules become too rigid ‘it‘s impossible not to look ridiculous.‘
So the stage is set for high farce and Maupin does not disappoint. nimbly untangling a plot which has more strands than a bowl ofspaghetti. I-le likens it. in the words of Wodehouse. to ‘musical comedies without the music'. his intention being to put ‘real people in bizarre situations and make the reader cry as well as laugh.”
Tales of the City, More Tales o fth e City. F arther Tales ofthe City and Babycakes are published by Corgi in paperback. Signiﬁcant Others is published by Chatto & Windas at £10. 95.
‘ Forty-five minutes later. she waited for her limousine on the curb in front of the Fairmont. She was decked out in her favorite touring ensemble: a low-necked turquoise sweater dress cinched at the waist by a brownleathercummerbund. "
The cummerbund and her boots— Victorian-style lace-up numbers- gave her, she felt, the air of a good-natured dominatrix. As her nerves grew increasingly ragged, she needed all the authority she could muster when she faced her interrogators.
Her driver was a welcome surprise: young and dark, with pronounced ltalianate influences and a set of lips she could chew all night. As he whisked her down California Street toward her rendezvous with today's anchoroid, she asked him what he knew about the show.
‘Not a helluva lot.‘ he replied. ‘Just . . . it's called Mary Ann in the Morning.‘
She let out a faint groan. She could picture the little fluffball already.
‘My old lady watches it,‘ said the driver. ‘lt's real popular. She has on ...you know, stars like yourself... Lee lacocca, Shirley MacLaine. that kid 0‘ Pat Boone‘s with the barf disease. . .‘
‘Right,‘ she said.
‘I saw you on Carson the other night.‘
‘Oh . . . did you?‘ she hated itwhen they left you dangling. Whatthe hell were you supposed to say?
‘You were good.‘
‘We’re the same age. I noticed that right off. You‘re twenty-eight and I’m twenty-eight.‘
He laughed and peered over his shoulderal her. ‘My ol' lady‘s big too, ya know?’
‘Not as big as you, I mean. Not as big as I'd like herto be.‘
‘I hearyou,‘ she said.
‘I like ‘em really big. Like you. . . if you don‘t mind my saying.‘
She found her little egg of Obsession, gave her tits 3 quick squirt, and lowered her voice an octave. ‘Not at all,’ she said.
‘l didn‘twanna sound like I was . . .'
‘What‘s on ourschedule this ahernoon?’
‘You mean. . . afterthis show?‘
He thought for a moment. ‘Just a personal appearance.‘
‘You know. . . one of those Pretty and Plump shops on the peninsula.‘
She dropped the atomizer into her purse. ‘And then we‘re done until tomorrow?‘
‘So . . . we‘ve gottime.‘
She noticed that he swerved the wheel a little, but he recovered instantly and curled those edible lips into a comprehending smile. ‘Sure.’ he
said. ‘We've gottime.‘
BLACK IN THE USSR
Moscow 2042 VladimirVoinovich (Cape £1 1.95) To be vouchsafed a vision ofthe future is a doubtful privilege. being one side of a coin whose obverse asks: Have I the right. prospectively. to interfere in history? '
Such is the dilemma of Kidaly Kartsev. exiled Russian novelist of the l980s whose fantastic futuristic journey through Moscow 2042 reveals a Soviet state on its uppers: Pravda printed on toilet roll. arriving ‘tourists‘ shorn so that their hair may be re-cycled. food given in exchange for human waste (the sole national export) so that the cost of living begets the costive dying! It is a country galvanised by slogans and terrorised by the zealous followers of Sim Sitnych Karnavalov- a thinly disguised Solzhenitsyn. ‘(‘omp|etc freedom within reasonable limits' sloganises and satirises both the paradoxical illogic of the system and the monocular Western perception ofit. Clever stuff.
But. in attempting this black comedy of human plight Voinov ich is hoist with his own petai'd. for his portrayal of a de~humanising idealogy results in narrative peopled by shadows. and a novel whose programmatic approach is but a bare fictional paradigm of the skeleton
THE MISSIONARY by Alex Cathcart ('athcart's topical second novel discusses various ‘missionary' themes and deals with dislocated Scots in terms of their political. religious and class roots. Read about the demise of an old-fashioned Christian missionary and the rise of one ofthe new breed of working-class. educated. missionaries
in the community.
This is an ambitious novel. with the author's ear for dialogue still assured. (ilasgow llerald 0948275 5l0 cased £10.95
MEGGIE’S JOURNEYS by Margaret D’Ambrosio
'lhis 'l‘olkienesque fantasy of a girl‘s quest for her true identity is women with the evocative symbols of (elite mythology. Follow Meggie through her adventures to find out more.
0948275 480 paper £4.95
0948275 448 paper £4.95
Polygon, 48 Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9TJ
The List to— 23 June 1988 55