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Tales of the City #5

Significant Others

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8 hrs and 37 mins

The fifth novel in the beloved Tales of the City series, Armistead Maupin’s best-selling San Francisco saga, soon to return to television as a Netflix original series once again starring Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis.

Tranquillity reigns in the ancient redwood forest until a women-only music festival sets up camp downriver from an all-male retreat for the ruling class. Among those entangled in the ensuing mayhem are a lovesick nurseryman, a panic-stricken philanderer, and the world’s most beautiful fat woman. Significant Others is Armistead Maupin’s cunningly observed meditation on marriage, friendship, and sexual nostalgia.

322 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1987

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About the author

Armistead Maupin

107 books1,693 followers
Armistead Maupin was born in Washington, D.C., in 1944 but grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, he served as a naval officer in the Mediterranean and with the River Patrol Force in Vietnam.

Maupin worked as a reporter for a newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina, before being assigned to the San Francisco bureau of the Associated Press in 1971. In 1976 he launched his groundbreaking Tales of the City serial in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Maupin is the author of nine novels, including the six-volume Tales of the City series, Maybe the Moon, The Night Listener and, most recently, Michael Tolliver Lives. Three miniseries starring Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney were made from the first three Tales novels. The Night Listener became a feature film starring Robin Williams and Toni Collette.

He is currently writing a musical version of Tales of the City with Jason Sellards (aka Jake Shears) and John Garden (aka JJ) of the disco and glam rock-inspired pop group Scissor Sisters. Tales will be directed by Jason Moore (Avenue Q and Shrek).

Maupin lives in San Francisco with his husband, Christopher Turner.

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5 stars
3,123 (35%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 318 reviews
Profile Image for Fabian.
947 reviews1,565 followers
October 10, 2018
It's this fifth one that (finally) falters...

I read the first four Tales of the City books last year, and just to inject this year with that same sense of plot/character preposterousness, I get to this one, the one that actually has two characters seriously contend with the AIDS epidemic. As the series gains heft in terms of drama and historical importance, it suffers from making the situations (the different vignettes that portend the picaresque appeal) all-too familiar to previous installments in their swift execution.

"Simply connect," this by-now needlepoint philosophy by E. M. Forster is abused so much by the always magnificent Maupin. It is, again, no surprise that all the plot unravels, not in the city in which it is based, glorious San Fran, but ALWAYS elsewhere (here, twin camps in the woods: basically city-gone-rural). Plus, what is up with everyone having children and just never taking care of them? This is supposed to make us care MORE for the characters? Michael, the ever-egomaniac; Brian, the mopey cheater and altogether mess; Mary Anne, the sophisticated professional? Gag. Plus, where are Mona and Madrigal in this one? Their absence is yet another distressing detraction.

This is unfortunately my first "who cares?" moment with the very colorful A. Maupin.
Profile Image for Shane.
296 reviews
February 25, 2013
I loved this one and thought Maupin did a great job with the new character of "the world's most beautiful fat woman" - because introducing a character into the mix of well-established characters is a tricky proposition, but she was a welcome addition. Also, even though it's a bit disconcerting, I like how the characters reveal new and unexpected facets in each book - and I think that Maupin does a great job in switching things up while remaining true to his characters.

At any rate, one of my peeves with this series - which has nothing to do with the books - is how the books are often slotted into GLBT fiction or thought of as such; this seems inaccurate, because Maupin's books feature all kinds of characters ala some of John Irving's novels - and so far as I know, Irving's books aren't usually slotted in GLBT fiction - and one possible reason is because Irving identifies as *mostly* straight and Maupin identifies as gay.

Nonetheless, if one had to slot Maupin into a category of fiction, I'd say a more apt category is: "Inclusiveness and Diversity." End of rant.
Profile Image for W.
1,185 reviews4 followers
November 27, 2020
This is book 5 in the Tales of the City series.Critics are full of praise for the author.My impressions are mixed.

In terms of coherent storytelling,this book doesn't deliver.But what the author does have is a wicked sense of humour.There are some hilarious,laugh out loud moments and that is the saving grace of the book.

2.5 stars,rounded up.
Profile Image for Mark.
46 reviews6 followers
June 29, 2011
This is another enjoyable installment in the "Tales" series. Being based around a "Wimmin's" camp and a businessmen's summer retreat, it seems slightly odd and out of step with the other books, but marks Maupin's growing interest in the inner lives of the characters, rather than the fantastic exploits that they get up to. Even though the experience is unmistakeably American, it still resonates with the Gay and gender politics of the 1980s in the UK.

I particularly remember one year when we were going to London from Manchester, to attend the London Gay Pride and were waiting for the specially contracted double-decker buses. A group of us, young Gay men and lesbians, were all laughing and joking together, having found that we had at least one friend in common, and the festival atmosphere was very much evident, even at 6.30 in the morning. When the buses turned up, I naively assumed that we would all pile onto the same bus together - but no! All the lesbians climbed aboard the "women only" bus. It seemed so pointless and divisive to me; the women certainly didn't face any threat from the Gay men, so the only possible reason for segregating themselves was because they preferred the exclusive company of their own sex. If that was the case, why wasn't there a "men only" bus?

I'm not digressing here; this idea of seperatist politics as lunacy runs throughout this book. Maupin is always interested in pointing out that, within the diversity of humankind, the common humanity is the thing that binds us together. For me, the best of Maupin's writing is when he meets comedy head on with sentiment, without ever being mawkish. It might just be a line, but it will strike right to your heart and resonate with an experience in your own life; such as when Booter is rescued by Mabel and confesses to her about the death of the man he considered to be his best friend and she says, "Never told him, huh?" "No." Another nod. Another drag of her cigarette. "Doesn't matter," she said. "No, I guess not." "It's just words," she said.
Profile Image for Melody.
2,629 reviews262 followers
December 17, 2013
I thought I'd review these in preparation for the Anna Madrigal book coming out in January 2014. I honestly didn't expect to be catapulted head over heels back to Barbary Lane, back to the late 80s. Some of my intense reaction to this story/timeline must be attributed to my recent reading of the unutterably brilliant Two Boys Kissing, but much of it is down to Maupin's lovely writing. The narration is great, too.
Profile Image for Laura.
6,872 reviews556 followers
July 4, 2015
From BBC Radio 4:
More from the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin. Here Lin Coghlan dramatises stories from the novels Significant Others and Sure of You . Back in Barbary Lane, Mrs Madrigal is still attending her sensamilla plants .. Michael has found love again with his new boyfriend Thack. Brian and Mary Anne have gone to higher ground. living in a house which looms over Barbary Lane on The Summit .

Produced by Charlotte Riches
Directed in Salford by Susan Roberts.
Profile Image for Dennis Holland.
205 reviews80 followers
September 17, 2021
The Barbary Lane 90210 gang get out of San Francisco and go to camp. A wonderfully witty, warm-hearted and wise distraction from the stylized and serialized Ryan Murphy tv dramas that have also been vying for my attention.
Profile Image for Richard Moss.
466 reviews9 followers
June 29, 2018
When in search of a lighter read, Armistead Maupin never fails, or at least he hasn't up to now.

Not that there aren't serious events taking place in the fifth Tales of the City book. We are now in the era of Aids and it is having repercussions for gay and straight characters.

But what I come back to these novels for is the family of familiar characters who I have grown to love and cherish, as well as the wit and humanity of Maupin's writing.

Significant Others doesn't disappoint on that score. Maupin dispatches his characters to the Russian River area of San Francisco. D'Orothea and DeDe are going to Wimminwood, a lesbian arts festival - something that will cause significant tensions in their relationship. At the same time Michael and Brian get mixed up in a male bonding camp nearby, as Brian wrestles with a personal crisis.

Significant Others may not reach the heights of the early books, but there is still much to enjoy. Not enough Anna Madrigal perhaps, but new character Wren Douglas - a plus-size model - is a treat.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,808 reviews18 followers
April 27, 2022
To me, simply, this is not as good as 'Babycakes', the fourth in this series. 'Significant Others' isn't very playful/funny/sweet nor is it as sad/dark as previous outings. It's middle of the road events, not much is memorable. True, the characters are older but big, ridiculous, funny things happen to everyone at all age. Just okay for an afternoon read.
Profile Image for Chris.
244 reviews18 followers
October 18, 2022
While I still really enjoyed this, it was probably my least favourite of the series so far. Mary-Ann has become very unlikeable and is more or less absent, as is Mrs Madrigal. I enjoyed the new characters we got to meet, but Michael is most certainly the star now and I very much like the way it's going. I'm still looking forward to seeing where we end up in the next book.
956 reviews
January 19, 2019
I've now reread a couple of these in less than a week. They're really a delightful and distracting read. On one level they read like a form of trashy fiction. But they also serve as time capsules to a particular time and place. And it's San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic--at least in this one. That makes them of more substantive interest, I think. While I remember that time there is an immediacy to reading about it in these books that is quite thought-provoking.
Profile Image for Sara.
464 reviews
January 4, 2009
I re-read this series about every 2 years or so. Never ceases to make me laugh or cry. I love all these characters.
Profile Image for Clemens.
46 reviews
February 1, 2019
Mit dem fünften Band der Stadtgeschichten-Reihe umfasst der erzählte Zeitraum bereits zehn Jahre. Mit „Am Busen der Natur“ sind wir im Jahre 1986 angekommen. Von der Hippieseligkeit der ersten Bände der ersten Bände sind nur noch homöopathische Spuren vorhanden. Das Lebensgefühl der achtziger Jahre dominiert nun endgültig die gesamte Erzählung. Maupin hat manchen der Figuren ein kompletten Wandel verpasst, so dass es mir zum ersten Mal in dieser Reihe so ging, dass mir eine früher sympathische Figur eher unangenehm geworden ist.
Die zwei Erzählungsstränge entfaltet Maupin wieder nur langsam, aber wie schon in den vorangegangenen Bänden nimmt die Handlung immer mehr an Fahrt auf, um in einem überdrehten Finale auszuklingen.
Trotz all der überdrehten Wendungen und komischen Szenen liegt über den ganzen Roman eine unabweisliche Melancholie, die sich aus der AIDS-Krise der achtziger Jahre speiste. Maupin zeigt in ungeschönter Weise, wie sich dadurch das Leben in San Francisco für immer veränderte. Der Tod ist somit in diesem Roman immer allgegenwärtig.
Und es wird auch deutlich, dass die Reihe auf die Schlussgerade einbiegt. Mal sehen, wie Maupin die Reihe mit dem sechsten Band zu Ende bringt.
Profile Image for Sophia.
139 reviews4 followers
April 18, 2022
This was the worst book in the series so far. There were still parts that I enjoyed. Michael's storyline, while a bit repetitive, is still interesting to me. I really like and feel for him as a character. The conversation around AIDs is also a really impactful part of the book. This series has always shined brightest for me when it's dealing with serious topics, and that remains true. There was a moment in this book that hit me especially hard, when Michael is talking to a straight friend who is getting tested. The friend expresses how bad this would be for him because of his family, implying that it would be more tragic for him than for someone like Michael. Michael calls him out on it, and it's clear that the friend doesn't mean it that way, but subconsciously that thought was still there because that's the message he's receiving from most of the world. It's a heartbreaking and insightful moment.

Unfortunately the rest of the book didn't work for me. The fondness I feel toward Michael is not directed toward the other characters. Mary Ann and Brian annoy me, separately and as a couple. Ditto for De-De and D'or. The side characters that were introduced for this book had their moments but overall, I didn't care about them. And the other characters I do like were barely in the book or not in it at all. (Anna and Mona respectively.)

I've said it before, but this series also continues to be racist. I'm thinking particularly of De-De's mother and her maid, neither of whose names I can remember right now. There's a scene where the mother refers to the maid as the n-word, but it's portrayed as bickering between two people who are very close and the maid remains completely loyal to her. I truly don't understand how this was considered acceptable.

So overall, I didn't enjoy this book very much and I found certain aspects very problematic. Considering how far into the series I am, I will finish it. I'm especially curious to see what will change in the books that were written more recently. From what I've read about the author and the Netflix adaption, he regrets not representing POC better in the books (though I've not seen any specific acknowledgment of the outright racism directed towards them.) I'm hoping the books will show improvement and I'm curious to see what else happens to the characters.

Profile Image for Mark Hiser.
533 reviews15 followers
February 5, 2020
1985, and AIDS holds San Francisco in its grip. Life is fragile. Relationships are fragile. Even the wooden stairway leading to 28 Barbary Lane is fragile. People must learn how to live fully in a time of fear, how to commit to one another, and how to protect one another.

This fifth entry in the Tales of the City series begins when Brian learns that a woman with whom he had slept is dying of AIDS related complications. Fearfully, he asks his HIV+ friend Michael Tolliver to go with him for an HIV test. After learning that it will take ten days to get the results, Brian panics and wonders how he will tell his wife, Mary Ann Singleton.

The novel then focuses on three camping adventures in the Russian River area: Dee Dee and D’orothea attend Wimminwood, an all-female music and arts festival while Dee Dee’s stepfather attends an all-male gathering of high-level politicians, CEOs, and others at Bohemian Grove. Finally, to support Brian, Michael goes with his friend to stay at a cabin.

As the reader might expect, these three worlds collide.

Maupin also introduces into the story two other characters: Thack, a gay man to whom Michael finds himself attracted, and Wren, a plus-sized model who agrees to accompany Dee Dee’s stepfather.

This fifth book in the Tales of the City series may sometimes seems to falter unless the reader considers Maupin’s dilemma: how to keep light and breezy tales of San Francisco as thousands of men die around him, straight people begin to experience the disease, and the city itself is affected by the AIDS epidemic. By the time Maupin wrote this novel, it was becoming impossible to “tip-toe” around the epidemic.

Still, Maupin reminds us that even in such dark times it is possible to commit, care, protect, and even love. In the end, even Mrs. Madrigal has chained herself to the deteriorating steps leading to Barbary Lane in hope of saving them.

Though different in tone and energy from the previous four novels in the series, this is still one to read.
Profile Image for Lauren Burlew.
180 reviews4 followers
July 10, 2019
I liked this book a lot better than the last. This one was more substantial, set in the shadow of the AIDS crisis, while the last seemed more hijink-y. I don't rate these books individually very highly, but I rate the series as a whole highly. I like seeing the characters grow.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
392 reviews108 followers
May 11, 2020
3.7, As usual Tales of the City brings the comfort reading I need. I continue to enjoy seeing how Maupin's writing and characterization has progressed and the topics he explores through his books. Still so many subjects in this book remain relevant. On the other hand why does he have such a soft spot for Brian? Other Brian's good relationship with Mouse, he is such a dirtbag to the rest of the characters.
Profile Image for Bonnie.
1,253 reviews
January 27, 2019
I would love to see this one made into a movie, it would be hilarious.
This may be my favorite one so far. He tells great stories. Loved Wren and her individuality.
466 reviews2 followers
December 7, 2019
Love portrayed in many forms. It continues to be a joy to follow these characters as they develop and grow.
Profile Image for Bailey.
202 reviews
November 4, 2021
This one started out a little iffy for me compared to the others in the series, but once it hit its stride it definitely showed its charm. What a bunch of knuckleheads.
Profile Image for Ayla.
1,006 reviews29 followers
December 20, 2019
Love the “Plant Parenthood” nursery name!
567 reviews1 follower
March 26, 2022
The shadow of AIDS hangs over this fifth book in Maupin’s San Francisco Tales series. But it’s not just that which casts a subdued light.

Mary Ann, former perky ingenue, has become corporatised, Anna Madrigal is reduced to a weed smoking cameo, and Brian still refuses to grow up. New characters such as Booter aren’t very exciting, while old favourites like Mona are mere footnotes. The usual Maupin joy has gone missing in action.
Profile Image for Suzanne Moore.
630 reviews113 followers
January 26, 2014
This book felt like I was reading a sitcom. Which BTW, is not something I prefer to watch. Starting a series in the middle again, I learned about each fascinating character and then figured out past connections they had to each other as the scenes progressed. After finishing the book I found out there actually was a mini-series filmed for "Tales of the City."

Set in San Francisco during the eighties supplied the threat of AIDS. In fact, Michael has just discovered a woman he had an affair with has been diagnosed with the deadly disease. He is trying to avoid his wife while waiting for his own test results, and worries that he could have infected her if they come back positive. Mary Ann, Micheal's wife, hosts a TV talk-show and is taping a program featuring Wren, "The Most Beautiful Fat Girl." Michael takes an opportunity to go camping with a friend who is mourning the loss of his gay lover, but has actually just met a new guy that he is attracted to.

See what I mean by sitcom ... wait there's more.

Wren is having a fling with Booter, who is the new husband of Mary Ann's boss. Booter's step-daughter Dede and her lover D'or are spending the weekend at Wimmonwood, a festival for women only. At the same time Booter is spending the weekend at a retreat for men only, a 'good ole boys' get together ... but he has Wren in a nearby cabin for a late-night rendezvous.

Without giving away the entire story, this information will set you up for the shocking chain of events that occur when these characters collide. Read and let the drama pursue... or better yet, if so inclined, save yourself the time and watch the mini-series instead ... that is if you like sitcoms.
Profile Image for Eve Kay.
874 reviews30 followers
August 13, 2019
Thank you mister Maupin for restoring my faith in you.
I'm gonna start with the bad, coz honestly, the book starts bad, and end with the good, coz, well, you get it.
Babycakes had left a foul taste in my mouth and starting Significant Others was a chore. I wouldn't have ever started it if I hadn't already bought it.
In the beginning we leave a bitchy Mary Ann and the always lovely Mrs. Madrigal behind and follow some guy Brian (I know who Brian is) who I've up until now always thought of as a side character. We don't hear nothin' about Mona, who I love, but at least there's Michael!
The story starts off uninteresting because I haven't really cared for the characters who are now made into main characters.
In addition there's a few new characters introduced and I'm considering dnf'ing.
Then the story starts to pick up and Maupin's writing just flies off the page. The best part is how all the characters entwine and their story lines overlap and they're all connected to each other in the end and that's true Tales, that is!
It lacks the mystery part, which I always used to love in the first three books, but it has a certain kind of urgency with a few events that take place which gives it a kind of an action-packed feel.
I loved Brian in the end, and DeDe! Here's to you girl, hope you all the best! Michael is, still, so wonderful <3
I liked how Maupin made all the characters real, with emotions, he made them 3-dimensional, with futures. In the end I'm left with a solemn feeling and I'm just so happy I have also bough Sure of You and I have it right here to console me.
256 reviews
January 3, 2016
It's always good to reconnect with the denizens of the "Tales of the City" series, but in truth the ship almost runs aground in this fifth book of nine. It opens at an understandably depressing time--San Francisco in 1984, when AIDS was exacting such a devastating toll (the book was actually written in 1987). However, against this rather morose background, there are two strands of narrative that don't exactly energize the proceedings. First, there are the bickering couples Brian and his wife Mary Ann, and DeDe and her lesbian partner D'orothea, and their ongoing squabbles grow very tiresome. Second, Maupin attempts a satire of two trends of the 1980s: politically correct lesbian retreats and white-male corporate power retreats. They're pretty easy targets, and Maupin is neither terribly trenchant nor witty in his observations. The redeeming feature is that HIV-positive Michael, who has retreated within himself since the death of his partner of HIV-related causes, finally finds a man (the oddly named Thack) from Charleston, South Carolina, who will quite clearly become his lover. Their courtship is sweet, moving, and wholly adorable. It almost redeems the book.
Profile Image for Bill.
529 reviews11 followers
October 7, 2015
The characters of past "Tales of the City" novels are joined by a few new faces, all strong, distinct characters -- without the implausible background plot of most of the other volumes, which is refreshing! A bit like a Shakespeare homage, various characters end up in the same forest, escaping the outside world in their own enclaves. When the lines blur (because really, what is a border in the wilderness?), especially between the "men only" and "women only" spaces, conflict ensues, but without the tabloid-level tension of some of the past books' hooks.

Instead the tension here is between characters -- particularly the strain on relationships that are entering "long-term" territory, but also on friendships where the characters are afraid to admit how much they mean to each other.

If there's a weakness here, it's that the book loses focus when talking about the character of Mary Ann. I would have liked to find out more about what's going on with her as she continues to put her drive and ambition ahead of so many of her relationships -- it would have helped me understand where I know her path is going to take her in future books in the series.
Profile Image for Susy.
584 reviews5 followers
November 22, 2011
I was reminded of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City characters during a conversation with a friend so when I walked into my favorite & only remaining bookstore that features second hand books and is shutting its doors soon I looked for some of his titles. This one falls somewhere in the middle of the novels that continue the Tales of the City columns about life on Barbary Lane in San Francisco of the late 70's. If you've never met Mary Ann, Brian, Michael, Mrs. Magrigal et al it matters not as this is a whimsical rendering of life in Northern California in the last years of the 20th century. The plot is thin but there's a lovely depiction of the Bohemian Grove, a men's only enclave for mostly conservative Republican types, and we're reminded of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that is now on the back burner of medical concerns (thankfully).

It was fun to revisit these characters and Maupin is great with details of city living. Glad to remeet them, and now I'll probably forget them once more.
Profile Image for Deebles.
50 reviews2 followers
February 28, 2008

Significant Others - Armistead Maupin.

Like usual Maupin left me laughing and reading this book incredibly quickly. It was great to have DeDe as a more prominent character as she has always been in the background (apart from Further Tales, but that was a very specific story). It was also great to see Mouse taking a chance on love. I also thought that AIDS was handled really well. At the time the book was written i was a child and i remember all the TV programmes that tried to raise awareness about AIDS and how it wasn't just a homosexual disease, so it was refreshing to read as an adult. I didn't particularly like the way Mary Ann's character had developed, she was getting very sweept up in the 80's and becoming a snob but at the end of the book i thought all that was changing and she would become loveable again.

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