Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Sentimental journey


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Logical Family by Armistead Maupin; HarperCollins, $27.99

It's a busy time for Armistead Maupin, beloved author, ringmaster of the "Tales of the City" series, and recent returnee to his home city by the Bay with husband Christopher Turner. His memoir "Logical Family," an honest, smoothly-written, intimate affair dedicated to Turner, arrives fast on the heels of a just-released and quite marvelous documentary on his life called "The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin." When enjoyed together, they form integrative companion pieces alongside the beloved "Tales" series of books.

Throughout frank yet affably written chapters, Maupin, 73, warmly reflects back on his upbringing as the son of bigoted parents growing up in conservative 1940s North Carolina, aware of his burgeoning sexuality, yet not willing to sacrifice pleasing his father for the kind of sexual freedom he truly craved. Together with his best friend, the author spent the summer before college "romancing the Confederacy" at the North Carolina Civil War Centennial Commission preserving battle provisions before entering law school. Bored with the curriculum and unconcerned with mediocre grades, Maupin abandoned that endeavor in favor of another of his father's wishes for him: the armed forces. But a stint as a U.S. Navy officer in Vietnam failed to stem the tide of his homosexuality, which emerged even as his time in the armed forces waned.

Though the memoir's timeline is a bit jumpy, the anecdotal memories Maupin shares coalesce beautifully into a rich tapestry sewn through with youthful innocence, simmering activism, and the kind of boldness and resolve necessary to survive the heartbreak and unstoppable sorrow permeating the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

Arriving in San Francisco in the early 1970s, the author began creating his "logical family," a term he derives for the group of loved ones "that actually makes sense for us." Settled in the Bay Area, he immediately ventured toward a gay bar where men were "slow dancing to Streisand under twirling colored lights, as if that were the most normal thing in the world." He then grabbed a copy of this publication, which, back then, was "a gay handout whose initials conveniently spelled out the word bar," and quickly became adept at "pickup sex" after scoring an apartment on Sacramento Street a block away from the cruisy bushes of Lafayette Park. He soon branched out to enjoy the bathhouses generously sprinkled from North Beach to the South of Market district.

Maupin's writing career took off after he'd been commissioned in 1976 by the San Francisco Chronicle to write six weeks' worth of episodes of the character-driven serial series "Tales of the City," a love letter to San Francisco that was (after some initial confusion) eventually adored and devoured by readers locally and far-flung, and soon made Maupin a household name.

The author spares no detail in sharing his adoration for and dalliances with Rock Hudson, describing how heartsick he was upon learning of Hudson's AIDS diagnosis in 1985.

Maupin's memoir is honest, connected, and ever-thankful for the family he relates to most, which includes author Christopher Isherwood, actor Ian McKellen, and actress Laura Linney.

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