I feel like I might be getting there (finally!) with my 20 Books of Summer! This is Book 13, but I’ve already read Book 14 (reviewing on Thursday) and I’m over half-way through Book 15, with just five more novels to go. How are you getting on with yours?

This is one of the three books I bought in Oxfam Books in the Between Times in summer 2020 (one of the others being “The Stopping Places“, so I’m doing well with that set of books; I’ve also read three of the other four new ones in mentioned in that post).

Armistead Maupin – “Logical Family: A Memoir”

(22 July 2020 – Oxfam Books)

My youth would be like that, the slow decay of cherished myths – about politics and race, about love itself – until nothing was left but compost from which something authentic could finally begin to grow. (p. 22)

Your logical family is the group of people you gather around you when your birth family doesn’t match you in needs and expectations. Maupin grew up in a proper Old South environment, where his father, frequently referred to as “unreconstructed” held non-ironic opinions about the Civil War and people of colour, their military forebears were celebrated and only his mum and sister really understood him. So this memoir, which takes Maupin into his 30s but refers forward to his coming life and relationships, details how he found his true self and his logical family.

There’s lots of detail on who and what inspired the beloved “Tales of the City” series, and there’s a lovely cameo from Laura Linney, who played Mary Ann in the original TV series and has remained a close friend. Indeed, Maupin has a knack for close friendships, and while there’s a touch of name-dropping here and there, he has a wide circle of friends who he’s kept for decades, only really lost through death (and the Aids epidemic is of course referenced here several times). With these friendships, he flashes forwards through time satisfyingly, and sometimes amusingly, to fill in details, so you don’t feel short-changed by the book finishing in his relative youth.

There’s a lot about Maupin’s service in Vietnam – not a natural serviceman by his own admission, he takes on a comms role in the Navy and volunteers for more direct work when he gets the chance. The stories of his comrades and superiors are told kindly and generously and it’s a very interesting aspect to the book. There’s a particularly moving moment when a young man he’d recommended for some medals turns up at a book signing to show him them in person; Maupin has changed in the intervening three decades but is still very moved.

Maupin is searingly honest about his former self, seeing much in his right-wing attempts to make his father love and accept him not to like and to be ashamed of. He seems particularly upset by the closed-off nature of his emotional life: “his heart was still closed to the possibility of real tenderness. The lid was locked down for fear of what might escape” (p. 69). But of course he does find love, and his real authentic self, and while he is constantly disappointed by his parents’ denial of him and support for right-wing projects and people, he gathers enough like-minded souls around him to be able to cope. He’s also then honest about mis-steps, for example with his character D’Orothea in “Tales of the City” whose lack of authenticity he’s called out on by a reader – “My Southern white-boy bones had been laid bare for all to see” (p. 206) – but he shares how he finds a solution to redress this, too.

A lovely, generous book it was a treat to read.

This is Book 13 in my 20 Books of Summer project.

I’ve got a few for Bookish Beck and her “Book serendipity” theme, when something crops up in two or more books read at the same time. Two of these relate to Maya Angelou’s “Singin’ & Swinging’ & Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas” but the first I came across was that Maupin’s English teacher also taught Anne Tyler, whose set of novels I’m of course reading at the moment! The two Angelou connections are, rather oddly, mention of the Seabees branch of the US Armed Services and the opera Porgy & Bess (Angelou performs in a touring production and mentions the street which Maupin lived on which they both say was the inspiration for the street in the book then opera).