- Logical Family: A Memoir by Armistead Maupin
Fans of Armistead Maupin’s series of novels collectively known as Tales of the City will find much pleasure in his recent memoir, Logical Family. Like his fiction, it features the incisive characterization, candor, and psychological depth for which Maupin is best known, as well as some of the same wildly improbable plotlines drawn from his own life that have made his novels such compulsive reading. Maupin has met President Nixon, worked for Senator Jesse Helms, had a tour of duty in Vietnam, came out in San Francisco, and began writing the novels for which he is famous as newspaper columns with virtually no plan of how he was going bring the scheme off. Nobody knew, least of all Maupin himself, that these nine novels would become his life work and a mouthpiece for LGBTQ liberation for thousands of devoted readers worldwide.
The book’s title is his own phrase, “logical family,” as opposed to “biological family”—that is, the people one chooses to have relationships with as opposed to those one has to by virtue of blood. Maupin is unflinchingly honest about his conservative biological family: his father and brother are distant; his Confederate grandfather looms large in his family mythology; but he finds refuge in his mother, sister, and grandmothers. Interesting as his family is, [End Page 92] his logical family is even more so, including the many people he met as he moved to San Francisco and began his writing career, as well as those he met because of his coming out and subsequent status as a gay public figure: actor Rock Hudson, for example, with whom he had an affair and, following that, a long friendship; actor Ian McKellen; artist Donald Bachardy and his partner, writer Christopher Isherwood.
Presumably, Maupin sought to explore how his background created his need for a logical family, and the two subjects—his background and his logical family—do not always connect as clearly as they might. For instance, the chapter Maupin devotes to his stint in Vietnam is fascinating, but it is unclear exactly why its material is important to the larger narrative. There are odd omissions as well. For example, one wonders about his long-term partner Terry Anderson, who is barely mentioned, and about his husband Christopher Turner, who is mentioned often but with no great detail about their relationship: how they met, how their relationship developed, and so on. Given that these would presumably be some of the most important members of Maupin’s logical family, such omissions are puzzling.
Perhaps the most surprising omission is one that many readers may be looking for: the development of the nine-novel fictional world he created. There is fascinating material about how the initial six-volume set of novels actually got started but not nearly as much on how it developed and was sustained over time, nor on the final three novels that pick up nearly twenty years after the first six left off. One familiar with his entire corpus might wish the connections between Maupin’s life and his fiction were more fully articulated.
These, however, are minor quibbles. One of the attributes of a memoir is its free-form nature, allowing its writer to emphasize what he or she feels is important without necessary regard for logical narrative progression. Alert readers will see the seeds of his greatest character creation, Anna Madrigal, in his grandmother, and his main characters, Mary Ann Singleton and Michael Tolliver, as clearly aspects of his own personality as he came out in San Francisco as a young man: naïve, curious, hopeful, romantic. As his readers know, Maupin is a natural storyteller, and his stories are [End Page 93] well worth hearing. As a panorama of the LGBTQ movement filtered through one man’s experiences, the memoir is a wonderful success in social history. And, as always, Maupin’s humanity and warmth come shining through. As he writes about an intergenerational party of gay men, “This is how the camaraderie of...