Sure Of You

Sure Of You by Armistead Maupin9780060924843

publication date: 1989
pages: 262
ISBN: 978-0-06-092484-3

In this charming and moving novel, Maupin followed a group of friends as they navigated long-term relationships, changing careers, and the specter of AIDS in the gay community. Unbeknownst to me when I picked up the book at the library, Sure Of You was the sixth and final installment in Maupin’s “Tales Of the City” series. Its role as part of a series, however, in no way hampered my enjoyment of the book. Sure Of You worked very well as a stand alone piece.

Sure Of You presented Mary Ann and Brian, a couple whose relationship was challenged by Mary Ann’s demanding career as a TV personality; Michael and Thack, lovers who attempted to make a life together while Michael’s HIV-positive status was an ever present reminder of the irresolute nature of the future; and Anna and her daughter Mona, on a trip to Greece to discover sex and connections. Maupin’s characters, and their relationships, were some of the highlights of the book. Everyone had a signature voice and explicable – and sometimes conflicting – motivations.

Maupin’s dialogue, which was a large portion of the book, was also excellent. Every character’s dialogue was distinctive, and entire conversations seemed natural. He also captured the intimate nature of relationships by showcasing confidential and realistic dialogue. There was this scene, for example – which showed the undercurrents that flow when humans get together:

“What’ll it be?” Brian asked from behind the bar . . .
Burke . . . addressed Brian: “You used to be a real bartender, didn’t you? Down at Benny’s.”
“Perry’s,” said Brian.
“That’s right.”
“I was a waiter, though.”
“He was a lawyer before that,” Mary Ann put in, “but he took on so many liberal causes that he sort of burned out.”
Michael saw Brian’s expression and knew what he was thinking: Why does she always have to say that? Wouldn’t waiter have been enough?

The book generally had a personal and intimate plot. The story focused not on saving the world or overcoming a villain but on the relationships that encompass our lives. Maupin took these relationships seriously and showed how a word or a look can create turmoil or joy.

Maupin was adept at furthering the plot through dialogue. Many conversations between the characters created such tension and suspense within me that I absolutely could not put the book down. The writing fostered that preoccupation, all while imbuing the book with a humor-tinged melancholy.

This book introduced me to full characters with resonant lives, which mirrored many of my own experiences. It also presented gay people and issues in the context of unassuming characters and stories. I would recommend to anyone who likes novels revolving around rich characters and detailed histories.

5/6: seek this book out

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OUTsider by Ruth Marimo41mh4gjqj7l-_sx321_bo1204203200_

publication date: 2014
pages: 248
ISBN: 978-0-9895868-0-1

This book had two things going for it: a heartfelt and genuine tone and a thought-provoking account of a person not often represented in the media.

OUTsider was the autobiography of Ruth Marimo, a gay, undocumented immigrant activist originally born in Zimbabwe. The book detailed her struggles of being an orphan in Zimbabwe, the confusing events that led to her living in America at nineteen without a status, her abusive marriage, and her self-discovery as a lesbian and an activist.

Marimo was very open about much of her life, including her struggles with her sexuality, her noxious relationship, and her status as an undocumented immigrant. That sincerity and candor was often effective, as in this passage from shortly after Marimo arrived in the States:

At first, I was very alarmed and upset that I had come to this country so ill prepared. I had not been treated well, and I had to work real hard for everything I had.
I was nineteen.
I was a kid.
For the past year, I had fended for myself so far away from home and from any assistance. Now, with my predicament, I simply had to do whatever I could to survive. I shopped for all my clothes at the Goodwill . . . .

The ardent nature of the writing and the important subject matter, especially surviving a physically abusive relationship, was enough to recommend the book. However, the book had some problems.

The writing was self-indulgent, like a journal or diary, as though Marimo was using the writing process to work through her own problems. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with using writing as a tool, but then don’t sell the book to others as something that would interest them.

Also, the writing could be very disorienting. Parts were contradictory, from the smallest lines to entire passages. As just one small example, early in the book, Marimo said she was “really in love” with a young woman named Belinda when she was around 16. Then, only nine sentences later, she said she fell in love with a young man named Masimba at 17, and this “was the first time I was truly in love with someone.” Entire sections contained these kinds of contradictions, which made the book confusing to read and lessened its effectiveness.

Additionally, Marimo did not have a coherent thesis beyond just the importance of her story and stories like hers. That was enough of a thesis for me, but the book seemingly strove for a more actionable thesis, and failed.

The book was a quick read and contained many illuminating passages about Marimo’s life and experience.

4/6: worth reading

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