When Mary Anne Singleton visits San Francisco, she decides to stay there permanently, leaving her more traditional life back in Cleveland. She finds a place to live at 28 Barbary Lane, where the occupants of the various apartments operate much like a large, dysfunctional family.
I began this book with mixed feelings. The writing is very sparse in a way I don’t normally appreciate. The narration didn’t explore thoughts or emotions of the characters, but instead simply recited the actions and dialogue of a huge cast, most of whom crossed paths and intermingled throughout the book. For the first half of the book, I felt no connection to the characters because of the way the book was written, and so reading it felt more of an academic experience than an emotional one. I did enjoy the historical aspect, and felt like Maupin did a fantastic job illustrating the details of life in San Francisco in the 70s. I felt like I was learning a lot, that the book was broadening my sense of cultural history.
Halfway through, however, something changed. The writing itself didn’t change, but I suddenly started to care about the characters and story in a less-than-academic way. I’m not sure what caused the change – perhaps I just spent enough time with the characters? – but either way, I began to enjoy the book on two different levels. I was surprised by several of the major twists, and could relate all too well to the sort of listless hopelessness that pervaded the novel. It wormed its way into me, and by the end, I really liked the book. I’m glad I stuck with it long enough to get to that point.