Literature: Tales of the City

Tales Of The City is the first book in a series of nine novels by Armistead Maupin, the first three of which have been turned into TV mini-series staring Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney. Follows the lives and loves of the residents of an apartment block in San Francisco.

The books largely unfold in real-time in relation to their publication, and the eighteen-year hiatus between books six and seven is incorporated into the story. While each book works as a stand-alone story, they follow on from each other (and occasionally foreshadow events later in the series), meaning that they are best read in publication order. Titles in the series are:
  • Tales of the City (1978)
  • More Tales of the City (1980)
  • Further Tales of the City (1982)
  • Babycakes (1984)
  • Significant Others (1987)
  • Sure of You (1989)
  • Michael Tolliver Lives (2007)
  • Mary-Ann in Autumn (2010)
  • The Days of Anna Madrigal (2014)


Includes examples of:

  • A Day in the Limelight: Michael Tolliver Lives and The Days of Anna Madrigal still feature ensemble casts, but focus on their title characters' stories more closely than earlier novels, which tended to run multiple story lines.
    • Averted to an extent by Mary Ann in Autumn, partly because Mary Ann was always the nominal protagonist of the first six books anyway, partly because her return to San Francisco sparks multiple stories that don't always directly involve her (more like the first six novels, in other words).
  • Alpha Bitch:
    • Rose Dvorak, the militant security chief at Wimminwood, who seems to make it her personal mission to make DeDe feel unwelcome.
    • Sabra Landauer, the pretentious lesbian poet, might also qualify.
  • Asshole Victim: Beauchamp Day, who dies in an accident after putting a hit out on his wife's unborn twins.
  • At the Opera Tonight
  • Axe Crazy:
    • In More Tales, Mona's mom comes to the city seeking vengeance against her ex-husband (who, as it turns out, is Mrs. Madrigal) for leaving her all those years ago.
    • And Luke in "Further Tales of the City", which is fitting given that he's actually Jim Jones.
  • The Beard:
    • In Babycakes, Mona marries a gay Englishman who ends up moving to San Francisco.
    • At the end of Significant Others, Sabra Landauer announces that she's marrying a presumably gay man.
    • In Sure of You, Russell Rand is a closeted gay man married to Claire Rand.
  • Bi the Way: Mona has had relationships with both men and women.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Wren Douglas, who bills herself as the world's most beautiful fat woman.
  • Cliff Hanger: In the best tradition of the Serial Novel.
  • Coming-Out Story: Michael's letter to his parents coming out of the closet, which has been turned into a fairly popular song for gay men's choirs.
  • Cool Old Lady:
    • Anna Madrigal; not strictly "old", but significantly older than most of the other protagonists, and definitely written this way.
    • Her mother Mother Mucca is both old and cool.
    • In Significant Others, there is Mabel, the Only Sane Woman at Wimminwood.
  • Darker and Edgier: The third book includes kidnapping, gay-bashing, and rabbit-skinning. In general, the books published in the eighties and beyond are much darker.
  • Dead Guy Junior: DeDe names her son Edgar, after her late father.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Mrs. Halcyon has no problem with her daughter giving an interview in which she discusses being raped, but asks her not to make any mention of her consensual and loving five-year relationship with another woman, considering the subject of lesbianism too shocking even for a candid piece. Leads to a rather satisfying scene with DeDe Calling the Old Man Out.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Beauchamp Day didn't kill anyone (that we know of), but he's utterly narcissistic and amoral, and the only person in the first book or miniseries (and the only male in either of them) who seems equally interested in men and women. As long as they're not his wife.
  • Expy:
  • Happily Adopted: Shawna, Mary Ann and Brian's adopted daughter.
  • Has Two Mommies: Anna and Edgar, Jr. are raised by DeDe and her lover D'orothea.
  • Hawaiian-Shirted Tourist: Arnold and Melva on the cruise to Acapulco.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Jim Jones.
  • Historical In-Joke: "I don't even know where Jonestown is!"
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Most of the girls at the Blue Moon Lodge, especially Bobbi. Mother Mucca is a madam with a heart of gold.
  • Jerk Ass: Beauchamp Day, in spades.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mother Mucca is rather prickly (and swears like a sailor), but is overall a nice lady.
  • Last Request: Edgar Halcyon discovers that his daughter DeDe is pregnant just as he's lying on his death bed. He dies happy after getting her to promise that if the baby is a girl she'll name her Anna, after Mrs. Madrigal. She does - and also names Anna's twin brother Edgar.
  • Libation for the Dead
  • Likes Older Women: In Significant Others, Polly makes no secret of her attraction to DeDe, even though the latter woman is much older.
  • Love Interest: Several notable ones outside of the main cast, including Jon for Michael and Edgar Halcyon for Mrs. Madrigal.
  • No Bisexuals:
    • Averted with Mona, who is openly bisexual.
      • Though she flirts with But Not Too Bi: Tales and Babycakes both show her dating women while only having casual flings with men, but exactly the opposite is true in Further (it's even Lampshaded that she's suddenly realized she can only be emotionally intimate with men and that her interest in women is almost purely sexual, even though her behavior up to that point had indicated the exact opposite.) Likely deliberate, as her whole character is extremely flaky.
    • Played with in the case of Beauchamp, who has extra-marital affairs with both men and women, but the "B" word is never used. note 
    • Played oddly straight with DeDe, who goes from an opposite-sex marriage, plus affairs with men that she obviously enjoys, to identifying solely as a lesbian the first time she falls for a woman, with nothing in-between; this is perhaps the only case in the franchise where this trope is played entirely straight.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted in Babycakes - Michael chats to a waiter at a gay cafe, whose name also turns out to be Michael. They Lampshade the fact that "it feels like half the gay guys in the world are called Michael", and the waiter is referred to as "the other Michael" throughout the scene to differentiate.
    • Also, DeDe's twins Edgar and Anna are named after two other characters in the series - Mr. Halcyon (her father) and Mrs Madrigal - making this trope sort of unavoidable in their case. Anna is often referred to as "little Anna" to differentiate. Edgar is Dead Guy Junior, avoiding the problem of telling the two apart, since he's born after his grandfather's death.
  • Punctuation Shaker: D'orothea's real name is just Dorothy. She added an apostrophe and changed the ending in order to make people think she was more "exotic" and thus get more modeling work.
  • Rape as Drama: DeDe is raped by Jim Jones. The rape occurs off-page, but is recounted in an interview.
    • Ironically, the same character deliberately invoked this trope in the first book, falsely claiming to have been raped (by someone with whom she was actually having a consensual affair in which she was the seducer) just so she wouldn't be left out of her club's talk on sexual assault.
  • The Reveal: Lots and lots and lots.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Jon, who contracts HIV and dies of AIDS off-page between Further and Babycakes, after playing a major supporting role in every prior book.
  • Serial Novel: Originally published as a serial in the San Francisco Chronicle.
  • Shipper on Deck:
    • Mrs. Madrigal takes great delight in pairing off her "children".
    • In Significant Others, all of Michael's friends try to get him together with Thack, even though they barely get much of an opportunity to get to know each other over the course of the book. Father Paddy Starr even declares that he'd love to do a blessing ceremony for them.
  • Shout-Out: The first novel has numerous references to Alfred Hitchcock and especially Vertigo, but the miniseries takes it to a whole new level, including a pastiche score.
  • Significant Anagram: Anna Madrigal aka "A Man and a Girl".
  • Straw Feminist:
    • Mona can come across this way on occasion.
    • Wimminwood is a hotbed of straw feminists, particularly its militant security chief, Rose Dvorak, whose hair is shaved in such a way that you can see a huge female symbol on her head.
  • Spell My Name with a Blank: In Further, the movie star's name is constantly blanked out. It's commonly believed that he is Rock Hudson, who was still in the closet at the time that Further was published.
  • Spoiled Sweet: DeDe. By the end of the second book, DeDe is able to stand above the gossip and controversy that the people in the upper class live for. She also makes the conscious decision to keep her kids, despite Beauchamp's protests.
  • Suddenly Sexuality: DeDe goes from identifying as 100% straight to 100% gay after hooking up with D'Or.
    • Mona manages to pull this off several times despite being Bi the Way, since she constantly flip-flops between revelations that she only "truly" wants relationships with either one gender or the other, despite actually being attracted to both.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Prue Giroux. Most women would probably run far away from a guy who skins rabbits and steals children. Prue actually buys into his bullshit explanations.
  • Transsexual: Anna Madrigal's original name was Andy Ramsey.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Poor, poor DeDe. Sure, she starts out as spoiled and manipulative, but she has to contend with her husband's total indifference towards her; her beloved father's sudden illness and death; an accidental (and initially unwanted) pregnancy; her husband putting a hit out on her unborn babies; her husband's death in a freak accident; being caught up in Jonestown and barely escaping the massacre; being raped by a psychopath; being arrested in Cuba for homosexuality and forced to flee with her children as a refugee to the States; having her girlfriend choose to stay in Cuba and deny their relationship; and having her children kidnapped by the man who raped her. It's amazing that, throughout all this, she actually becomes a much better person than she started out.
  • Twofer Token Minority: In Tales the black lesbian model D'Orothea is the only non-white LGBT character. Until it's revealed that she's actually white.
  • Wham Line: Given the amount of reveals and plot twists, there are a ton of these.