California author Armistead Maupin has returned with the ninth and final volume in his much-loved Tales of the City series, The Days of Anna Madrigal. Maupin, who has long refused to be pigeonholed as a “gay writer,” writes about contemporary San Francisco and the love lives of both gays and straights in an era confronted with a dramatic reassessment of the ways in which people choose to love.
In this standalone novel, Anna, a 92-year-old transgender pioneer, realizes her last days are filling with small surrenders: “You could see them as a loss, or you could see them as simplification.” And she feels compelled to attend to unfinished business in her childhood hometown of Winnemucca, Nev. “It’s something old people do. … Old ghosts.”
Inspired by Christine Jorgensen, once George Jorgensen, a real-life former Army private who scandalized the nation in the early 1950s with a sex change, Maupin’s protagonist followed suit in the ’60s and became an activist who inspired others who struggle with sexual identity. Born Andy Ramsey, son of a Winnemucca madam, Anna Madrigal has transformed herself into a gentrified landlady, a citizen at the vital heart of her city, San Francisco, rescuer of stray cats and other wanderers, and a revered symbol for the LGBT community.
She also struggles with the knowledge that she, herself, has been a bigot. Decades ago, she’d thrown verbal poison at a Basque teenager who’d made advances to her when she was still a boy. In a moving interior metamorphosis at the climax of this novel, one that resonates with her earlier physical changes, Anna finally comes to terms with her confusion as a young man who was afraid of departing from the norm, while hiding a deep desire for lingerie and painted toenails. Owning her humanity in all its complexity, she returns to the gravesite of the young Basque boy in search of forgiveness.
The book is a fitting end to the Tales of the City and shines with Maupin’s uncanny ability to reveal people and their innermost secrets to themselves.
This review originally appeared in High Country News.
The Days of Anna Madrigal
By Armistead Maupin
288 pages, $26.99