Almost anything is possible

Monday Book Review

November 30, 1992|By Barbara Kaplan Bass

MAYBE THE MOON. By Armistead Maupin. HarperCollins. 305 pages. $22. ARMISTEAD Maupin is not a heterosexual, female, Jewish dwarf. Why, then, is it so easy to believe that Cadence Roth, the main character of Mr. Maupin's new novel, "Maybe the Moon," exists? Why is her voice so real? Perhaps it is because Mr. Maupin, although not one of the above, is human, a quality he does share with his protagonist.

That human-ness allows him not only to create this character but to inhabit her completely: aspiring movie star, friend, lover, dwarf. In fact, through Cadence's diaries, we learn how alike we all are, tall and short, black and white, gay and straight. Mr. Maupin demonstrates in "Maybe the Moon" -- as he has done before in his six "Tales of the City" novels -- his uncanny ability to close the distances between us while at the same time celebrating our differences.

In "Maybe the Moon," Mr. Maupin moves away from the familiar haunts of the characters who inhabit 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco and settles instead in Los Angeles. However, those of us who were saddened by Mr. Maupin's decision to end "Tales of the City" can take heart. He brings with him in this new novel an equally eclectic and entertaining cast of characters entwined in equally bizarre plot twists, only this time they are careening headlong through southern California instead of the streets of San Francisco.

They are still searching for permanence, love and acceptance, still outraged at the system, still hurt by injustice and the insensitivity of a world more interested in appearance than reality. And they still deal with these vagaries with dignity and humor. This is not to say that we give up hope that Mrs. Madrigal, the landlady with a secret in Barbary Lane, will stop by for a visit to help us put all of this emotional turmoil in perspective, or that sweet Michael Tolliver, who in Mr. Maupin's last novel was diagnosed as HIV positive, will turn up at a Queer Nation rally sporting an "I'm here and I'm queer" button.

There are references to Ned Lockwood, a minor character in the "Tales" series, but Mr. Maupin seems to have successfully tucked the others away as he explores new territory.

The characters and landscapes here may be different, but the concerns are the same. Mr. Maupin, who has emerged as a national spokesman and advocate for gay rights, continues his attack on hypocrisy in his new book.

Here he focuses primarily on Hollywood's continuing pretense, especially in the light of the spiraling number of AIDS-related deaths in the entertainment industry, that movie stars are not gay. As in Cadence's ill-fated video, the agents, directors and stars all seem to be playing with light, concerned with hiding behind masks and staying invisible, all superficiality, pretense and show.

Mr. Maupin creates in "Maybe the Moon" an obvious parallel between society's reaction to Cadence's "queerness" and its reaction to homosexuality. Cadence wants to act; Hollywood has few roles for dwarfs. Cadence wants to love; the rest of the world views anyone who looks at her sexually as perverted. Cadence wants visibility and recognition for who she is; Hollywood wants to keep her hidden in the costume she wore as Mr. Woods, a lovable E.T.-like character she once portrayed in a film.

Just as it hides Cadence in an alien suit, Hollywood hides its gay movie stars behind false heterosexual masks. It casts dwarfs as either lovable elves or evil leprechauns and gays as either limp-wristed fags or deranged psychopaths. Society doesn't want to think about homosexual love, just as it can't bear to think of any so-called "perverted" relationship. It's OK for "queers" of any sort to have friends; it's not OK for them to have lovers.

Cady's "coming-out party" at the novel's end is more than the symbolic removal of her Mr. Woods suit: It's a statement about how we all must abandon our secrets and reveal to the world who we really are. If we do so, Mr. Maupin seems to be saying, we stop thinking as victims and begin taking charge of our lives.

Then almost anything is possible, maybe even the moon.

Despite its focus on marginalized characters, "Maybe the Moon" is actually a familiar story, depending on the way you look at it.

It's an old-fashioned, highly moral tale, filled with what William Faulkner referred to in his 1950 Nobel Prize address as ". . . the old verities and truths of the heart . . . love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice."

Here Armistead Maupin emerges as much more than a gay writer, much more than a West Coast humorist. In "Maybe the Moon" Mr. Maupin speaks to us all as he continues to demonstrate how well he understands what it means to be a human being.

Barbara Kaplan Bass teaches writing at Towson State University.

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