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Logical family : a memoir
2017
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  New York Times Review

READING THE MEMOIR of a writer you know from other kinds of books can be a glimpse into the inner workings of a mind you admire, and, as in the case of Armistead Maupin's "Logical Family," it can unveil how a fiction-maker deals with the requirement to confront the truth. Here Maupin undertakes to recount his own story without the mask of the novel or the short story. He is telling us what matters, what really happened, how he was formed. There are two Maupins at work in these pages. One is charming, effervescent, lyrical, hilarious, a name-dropper. The other is insecure, withdrawn, and a mite tone-deaf to the world around him. That they both inhabit the book indicates the real complexity of the man himself, but the dichotomy remains unexamined. Much of "Logical Family" is wry and sharply drawn. We learn a good deal about Maupin's seven decades: his family background, Navy career, Southern sexual frustrations and subsequent San Francisco awakening. And his fame, of course. There are guest appearances by luminaries, including encounters with Jesse Helms, Harvey Milk, Christopher Isherwood, Richard Nixon, Rock Hudson and many more. There is a good deal of what one expects from Maupin, wit and heartache rolled up into a tidy package, so that any anecdote can bring an ache of longing and a belly laugh all in the same paragraph. There is also vivid, sharp writing, as when he speaks of his grandmother as "this stately little partridge of a woman" or describes a sunset in Vietnam as "a fine blue pencil line across the landscape, the rice paddies a patchwork of shimmering green-gold mirrors." These stylistic high moments occur most frequently when the book hits its stride, about halfway through, about the time that Maupin moves to San Francisco and, after some struggle, begins to write "Tales of the City," which began as a daily newspaper serial and later became a string of novels. That Maupin is thrilled with his success is understandable; he earned it after a lot of meandering, and he justly celebrates it. But this tips the balance of the book toward the kind of celebrity memoir that is hard to take seriously, to the detriment of the earlier chapters, which hint at something deeper. In those early chapters we meet the insecure Maupin, child of patrician Southerners, conservative adolescent, Vietnam War veteran and supporter, a person so distant from his later self that one wonders how the second person emerged from the first. The memoir misses an opportunity to examine its most complicated material. Maupin's inability or unwillingness to probe the contradictory nature of his early decades - working as a reporter at a television station run by Jesse Helms, walking out of a church with his family when the church threatened to integrate - leaves a gap that wants bridging. He is, after all, a man who proved himself a fierce activist for the cause of L.G.B.T. rights but at the same time writes without hesitation about accepting the gift of a sleigh bed - from his mother as she is dying of cancer - built, as he notes without flinching, "by slaves in our family." It would have been the making of a powerful book to have Maupin probe the space beneath moments like these, or to talk about his genuine metamorphosis from right-wing child of a racist father to prince of gay literature and liberation. But Maupin never takes advantage of the many opportunities he has to delve more deeply into this part of his past. Instead, the easy, breezy quality of the book leaves us with the feeling that we've hardly seen a clear interior. It will, and should, please people who admire him and his work already. The book is undeniably entertaining. But one can't be faulted for wanting more. JLM GRIMSLEY'S most recent book is "How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood."

  Publishers Weekly Review

Novelist Maupin traces his journey from a conservative North Carolina upbringing to the emerging gay liberation scene of his beloved adopted hometown of San Francisco during the pivotal 1970s. As narrator of the audio edition, Maupin's vocal styling has a special combination of whimsy and warmth. His impish tone and animated delivery come across as irreverent but not mean-spirited. This delivery shines in the tale of Maupin's encounter, as a Naval officer in Vietnam, with a lizard species nicknamed for its vulgar-sounding cry and his awkward attempt to recount this ribald anecdote years later to child star turned diplomat Shirley Temple Black. In passages devoted to more serious matters-the AIDS crisis and his own family's support for homophobic political causes, for instance-Maupin does not shy away from allowing emotion into his voice. Yet the sorrow and regret remain tempered by a sense of ease and confidence, making for a thoroughly enthralling listening experience. A Harper hardcover. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
<p>"A book for any of us, gay or straight, who have had to find our family. Maupin is one of America's finest storytellers."--Neil Gaiman</p> <p>"I fell in love with Maupin's effervescent Tales of the City decades ago, and his genius turn at memoir is no less compelling. Logical Family is a must read."--Mary Karr</p> <p>In this long-awaited memoir, the beloved author of the bestselling Tales of the City series chronicles his odyssey from the old South to freewheeling San Francisco, and his evolution from curious youth to ground-breaking writer and gay rights pioneer.</p> <p>Born in the mid-twentieth century and raised in the heart of conservative North Carolina, Armistead Maupin lost his virginity to another man "on the very spot where the first shots of the Civil War were fired." Realizing that the South was too small for him, this son of a traditional lawyer packed his earthly belongings into his Opel GT (including a beloved portrait of a Confederate ancestor), and took to the road in search of adventure. It was a journey that would lead him from a homoerotic Navy initiation ceremony in the jungles of Vietnam to that strangest of strange lands: San Francisco in the early 1970s.</p> <p>Reflecting on the profound impact those closest to him have had on his life, Maupin shares his candid search for his "logical family," the people he could call his own. "Sooner or later, we have to venture beyond our biological family to find our logical one, the one that actually makes sense for us," he writes. "We have to, if we are to live without squandering our lives." From his loving relationship with his palm-reading Grannie who insisted Maupin was the reincarnation of her artistic bachelor cousin, Curtis, to an awkward conversation about girls with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, Maupin tells of the extraordinary individuals and situations that shaped him into one of the most influential writers of the last century.</p> <p>Maupin recalls his losses and life-changing experiences with humor and unflinching honesty, and brings to life flesh-and-blood characters as endearing and unforgettable as the vivid, fraught men and women who populate his enchanting novels. What emerges is an illuminating portrait of the man who depicted the liberation and evolution of America's queer community over the last four decades with honesty and compassion--and inspired millions to claim their own lives.</p> <p>Logical Family includes black-and-white photographs.</p>
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