Understanding John Rechy
115 pages
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Understanding John Rechy

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115 pages
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In this first book-length monograph on the Mexican American novelist, essayist, and playwright John Rechy, best known for his debut novel City of Night, María DeGuzmán offers a conceptually clear yet aesthetically, philosophically, and socio-politically fine-grained analysis of the spectrum of his writing. Recipient of PEN Center USA's Lifetime Achievement Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, ONE Magazine's National Gay and Lesbian Cultural Hero Award, the William Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Luis Leal Award for Excellence in Chicano/Latino Literature, and the Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Achievement, Rechy is the author of fifteen novels, at least three plays, and several volumes of nonfiction. He has written for the Nation, the New York Review of Books, the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice, the New York Times, and Saturday Review.

In Understanding John Rechy, María DeGuzmán offers a brief biographical overview and then traces the development of Rechy's craft through his major works by calling attention to central issues, recurring situations and characters, styles, and special techniques. She examines the complexities of his representation of identity, the subjectivity in his male homosexual odyssey and identity quest novels, and his experimentation with genre. She offers a concise yet intricate analysis of the major organizing paradigms and themes, genres, modes, styles, and handling of the gay Chicano's oeuvre. The book's guiding analysis pays particular attention to the ways in which Rechy's works function as cultural critique challenging mainstream values in a deep-structure manner.


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Date de parution 19 septembre 2019
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EAN13 9781643360072
Langue English

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UNDERSTANDING JOHN RECHY
UNDERSTANDING CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN LITERATURE
Matthew J. Bruccoli, Founding Editor
Linda Wagner-Martin, Series Editor
Also of Interest
Understanding Edward Albee , Matthew C. Roudan
Understanding Edmund White , Nicholas F. Radel
Understanding Camilo Jos Cela , Lucile C. Charlebois
Understanding Francisco Goldman , Ariana E. Vigil
Understanding Gerald Vizenor , Deborah L. Madsen
Understanding Jack Kerouac , Matt Theado
Understanding Larry McMurtry , Steven Frye
Understanding Nicholson Baker , Arthur Saltzman
Understanding Randall Kenan , James A. Crank
Understanding Truman Capote , Thomas Fahy
UNDERSTANDING
JOHN RECHY
Mar a DeGuzm n
2019 University of South Carolina
Published by the University of South Carolina Press
Columbia, South Carolina 29208
www.sc.edu/uscpress
28 27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data can be found at http://catalog.loc.gov/
ISBN 978-1-64336-006-5 (hardback)
ISBN 978-1-64336-007-2 (ebook)
Front cover photograph: Tony Korody/Sygma courtesy of Getty Images
For my students and in memory of my parents-to the manifold of life and art
CONTENTS
Series Editor s Preface
Preface
Acknowledgments
Chapter 1
Understanding John Rechy
Chapter 2
Male Homosexual Odysseys as Cultural Critique: City of Night, Numbers, This Day s Death , and The Coming of the Night
Chapter 3
True Fictions: The Sexual Outlaw and After the Blue Hour
Chapter 4
Intermedia-The Novels as Theater, Film, and Other Experiments: The Vampires, The Fourth Angel, Rushes , and Bodies and Souls
Chapter 5
The Women-Centered and Chicana Feminist Novels and the Memoir: Marilyn s Daughter, The Miraculous Day of Amalia G mez, Our Lady of Babylon , and About My Life and the Kept Woman
Chapter 6
The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens and Musicophilia
Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography
Index
SERIES EDITOR S PREFACE
The Understanding Contemporary American Literature series was founded by the estimable Matthew J. Bruccoli (1931-2008), who envisioned these volumes as guides or companions for students as well as good nonacademic readers, a legacy that will continue as new volumes are developed to fill in gaps among the nearly one hundred series volumes published to date and to embrace a host of new writers only now making their marks on our literature.
As Professor Bruccoli explained in his preface to the volumes he edited, because much influential contemporary literature makes special demands, the word understanding in the titles was chosen deliberately. Many willing readers lack an adequate understanding of how contemporary literature works; that is, of what the author is attempting to express and the means by which it is conveyed. Aimed at fostering this understanding of good literature and good writers, the criticism and analysis in the series provide instruction in how to read certain contemporary writers-explicating their material, language, structures, themes, and perspectives-and facilitate a more profitable experience of the works under discussion.
In the twenty-first century Professor Bruccoli s prescience gives us an avenue to publish expert critiques of significant contemporary American writing. The series continues to map the literary landscape and to provide both instruction and enjoyment. Future volumes will seek to introduce new voices alongside canonized favorites, to chronicle the changing literature of our times, and to remain, as Professor Bruccoli conceived, contemporary in the best sense of the word.
Linda Wagner-Martin, Series Editor
PREFACE
John Rechy-El Paso, Texas-born novelist, essayist, memoirist, dramatist, and literary critic of Mexican and Scottish descent-published his debut novel City of Night in 1963. This controversial first novel remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 25 weeks, was translated into more than a dozen languages, become an international bestseller, and is widely recognized as a great American novel and a modern classic. 1 Rechy has gone on to publish fourteen more novels (one of them classified as a documentary and not always recognized as a novel), one memoir, and a collection of forty-five essays as well as write at least three plays, one feeding into a novel and two of them based on already existing novels. 2 He is still writing from his home in Los Angeles. His work has had wide cultural impact, especially on other artists-photographers; filmmakers such as Gus Van Sant; painters such as David Hockney; and in particular musicians and songwriters such as Jim Morrison (and the U.S. rock band the Doors more generally), Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Lou Reed, and the Velvet Underground. One of the most well-known homages to Rechy s impact is the sixth studio album of the Doors, titled L.A. Woman and released in April 1971. The lyrics to the title track song L.A. Woman contain direct, subversive references to Rechy s first novel: Are you a lucky lady in the City of Light / Or just another lost angel? / City of Night, City of Night / City of Night, City of Night, woo, c mon. 3 Rechy s work was appreciated first by other artists and, as the references in popular songs attest, both he and his work went on to acquire legendary status, especially his first novel, whose standing continues to develop as more information about its many admirers comes to light-such as the novel s inclusion in the late singer, songwriter, and actor David Bowie s 2013 tally of the top 100 books. 4
With the exception of a short but very insightful piece published in 1979 on Odysseus in John Rechy s City of Night by Carlos Zamora (who served as the first chairperson of the University of California, Santa Barbara s Department of Chicana/o Studies, established in 1970 and the first such department in the United States) and a few other late 1970s, early 1980s articles on Rechy s sexual undergrounds, most official, critical recognition for Rechy s work came later, much of it in the 1990s onwards with the rise of Chicana/o Latina/o studies and queer studies, and their intersection in the academy. 5 A number of scholars (myself included) within or working across these categories have written chapters, chapter sections, and/or articles on various aspects of his work, among them Frederick Luis Aldama, Juan Bruce-Novoa, Debra Castillo, David William Foster, Carl Guti rrez-Jones, Ricardo Ort z, Rafael P rez-Torres, and Jos David Sald var. 6 In 1997 Rechy was the recipient of the PEN Center USA-West s prestigious lifetime achievement award, the first novelist to be so honored. 7 In 1999 he received the William Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award from Publishing Triangle at the New School in New York. The award announcement described Rechy as one of the most heroic figures in contemporary American life a touchstone of moral integrity and artistic innovation (Casillo, 293). In 2006 he was the first recipient of ONE Magazine s National Gay and Lesbian Culture Hero Award, named after the first U.S. pro-gay publication, which itself was established in January 1953. 8 In the fall of 2007 Rechy was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Texas at El Paso. 9 In October 2013 the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center presented a program with Rechy, H ctor Calder n (professor of Spanish and Portuguese), David L. Ulin ( Los Angeles Times book critic), and John Densmore (drummer for the rock band the Doors) to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the 1963 publication of City of Night . In 2014, at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Rechy was awarded the Luis Leal Literature Award for Distinction in Chicano / Latino Literature. The University of Alcal de Henares in Spain assembled a 2015 volume of testimonies to the cultural and personal impact of Rechy s work titled The Textual Outlaw: Reading John Rechy in the 21st Century , published through the Biblioteca Benjamin Franklin. On April 20, 2018 Rechy received the 2017 Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement. 10 This award recognizes a writer whose work focuses on the American West. In recognition of his talents as a writer and a teacher of writing, Rechy has been granted teaching gigs at Occidental College, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of Southern California s Dornsife Master of Professional Writing Program where, as of summer 2017, he was still teaching writing in addition to literature and film courses.
However, despite these recognitions, Rechy s legendary persona as an outspoken gay man who writes about himself as a sexual outlaw, a rough-trade hustler, and a bodybuilder has continued to overshadow the depth, complexity, variety, and sheer artistry of his works. This eclipsing is ironic given that, in his daily life, Rechy strove to keep those identities separate-not from his readers, but from other hustlers and especially from his clients, many of whom wanted to believe that they were with a tough but not smart man. 11 Furthermore, Rechy s focus on hustling and homosexuality in a significant portion of his works, beginning, most notably, with his 1963 City of Night , called readers and critics attention to them, but also subjected his works to censorship and marginalization, including exclusion from high school library bookshelves and, sometimes, from college-level literature courses. Consequently, students are not exposed to his works in the way that they are exposed to presumably safer authors and subject matter.
Moreover, the name John Rechy contains no clue to the author s Mexican American and/or Latina/o heritage or to the ways in which almost every work of his deals in one way or another with the effects of colonialism, socioeconomic and ethno-racial inequalities, and minoritization (active disempowerment foisted upon a particular group by a hegemonic group). Thus, Rechy as an author has not benefitted from Chicana/o and/or Latina/o literary recovery or discovery projects, at least not until very recently with the 2014 Luis Leal Literature Award and with the 2015 collection of essays The Textual Outlaw . In addition, as Costa Rican-born U.S.-raised literary critic Juan Bruce-Novoa pointed out several decades ago, much of Rechy s work does not focus on ethnicity in the ways found in many Chicana/o texts and thus does not readily advertise for inclusion in a Chicana/o canon (though that is less true of what I am calling his later women-centered, Chicana feminist novels ). 12 Most of his protagonists are not Mexican American and his narrators either pass (as with the narrator of City of Night ) or are assigned names that do not readily connote a specific Latina/o ethnicity, such as Jim Girard (which sounds Anglo French).
Furthermore, as professor of Chicana/o literature Manuel M. Mart n-Rodr guez astutely pointed out, Rechy was quite consciously exploring and exploding literary intertexts, thus opening in his works numerous lines of affiliation that outweigh those other expected lines of filiation with the Mexican [and Mexican American] tradition that could have granted him the endorsement of the Chicano/a literary intelligentsia. 13 The end result is that short shrift has been given to Rechy s work as a whole and to many aspects of his oeuvre-particularly to the relationships among his works and among the various genres, modes, styles, and art forms with which he experimented and through which he has contributed such vivid stories. Through his aesthetic experiments, he elaborates incisive cultural critiques that deeply challenge hegemonic or normative values of U.S. culture.
This volume in the Understanding Contemporary American Literature series offers an analysis of major organizing paradigms and themes, genres, modes, styles, and handling of medium in Rechy s oeuvre that have not been elaborated elsewhere or only in passing or solely in relation to a few works. Insufficiently elucidated by scholars thus far are the intersections between these aforementioned aspects that inform Rechy s work not only as literature but as cultural intervention encouraging his audiences and other artists (musicians, writers, filmmakers) to see, hear , and feel their own existences in the United States in irreverent, sometimes shocking, yet seriously probing and courageous ways. This volume gives the general reader and the scholar alike a comprehensive introduction to Rechy s oeuvre and simultaneously makes connections between Rechy s odyssey and identity quests; his representations of identity and identification; his true fictions; his critique of the dominant values of U.S. culture; his multisensory, boundary-blurring genre experiments with intermedia; the heretical, subversive, sexual outlaw, and feminist existential imagination of his works; and his investment in music. The latter, his investment in music, brings together all his other experiments: with odysseys and identity quests; with the relation between stories and truth ; with the merging of the imagined visual image, the verbal, and the gestural; and with dissent. Such dissent includes not only Rechy s dissent, but wider forms of American dissent where American is understood and viewed through that which the culture has historically disempowered and debased, repressed by the official myth-and-symbol-making attendant in the creation of the United States as America, to borrow literary and cultural critic Sacvan Bercovitch s analysis and phrase. 14 The historically oppressed in the United States who play central and abiding roles in Rechy s work are homosexual; hustlers and street people more generally; young, homeless (often criminalized) runaways and migrants; women; Mexican Americans and other people deemed of color. In many ways, Rechy was ahead of his time, particularly with regards to homosexuality, sex work, and multiple kinds of migrations. His oeuvre treats gay people, hustlers, and migrants (categories that are not mutually exclusive) not as exceptions to the body politic, but, instead, as constitutive of it.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
For thoughtful conversation about Rechy s work as I wrote this book, I thank Allory Bors and Sarah K. Jeffries as well as the students in my fall 2017 English 345 honors class at UNC Chapel Hill. I also thank Janet Cooling, Minrose Gwin, Candace Jean Kern, Sherryl Kleinman, Cassandra Langer, Claudia Milian, Jeanne Moskal, Ruth Salvaggio, Mary Slayter, Patricia Juliana Smith, Margaret Stetz, Aileen Tsui, and Linda Wagner-Martin for their friendship. Many thanks to Fred Leise for his careful indexing. For the opportunity to write this book and share it with the public, my gratitude goes to Linda Wagner-Martin and to the University of South Carolina Press. For their centering presence, I thank my beloved cat, Purrl, and my lares familiares .
CHAPTER 1
Understanding John Rechy
Biography
John Rechy was born March 10, 1931 Juan Francisco Rechy in El Paso, Texas to Guadalupe Flores and Roberto Sixto Rechy, both from Mexico with his father being of Scottish descent (hence, the name Rechy ) and his mother from Chi-huahua. 1 John was the youngest of their six children. Following the move from Mexico to Texas, Rechy s family suffered career and financial hardships-as did many families who left Mexico for the United States-and the family s struggles continued throughout Rechy s youth. 2 Charles Casillo, Rechy s biographer, explained that Rechy s paternal grandfather (Juan Francisco Rechy) was a Scottish man born in Spain and a respected doctor in the early 1900s (10) and that his wife, Mar a, was a strong-willed, haughty, independent woman who was light-skinned and blue-eyed (10). Juan and Mar a moved from Spain to Mexico City and quickly rose to social prominence in Mexico, a country with a racially and socioeconomically stratified system like so many countries in Europe and the Americas, the United States included. Their son, Rechy s father, was born in Mexico City at a time when the Rechy family was influential socially and politically. Roberto Sixto was born with an innate talent for music. According to Casillo, At the age of 10 he gave his first concert-playing Mozart and Beethoven for President [Porfirio] D az (11).
As a young man, through a combination of talent and family connections, Roberto became the director of the Mexican Imperial Symphony (11). Later on he married Mary, a blond, blue-eyed German woman, further advancing his family s upward social climb in Mexico s caste system. Under Porfirio D az s regime, the Rechy family (John Rechy s paternal grandparents) accumulated relative wealth and power. But in 1910 a violent revolution broke out, stoked by class tensions and resource inequalities resulting from Mexico s social system under the D az regime. Rechy s father, Roberto (along with his first wife Mary) and grandparents (Juan Francisco Rechy and his Spanish wife Mar a) fled Mexico and settled in El Paso. There Rechy s grandfather continued to be a highly respected physician, as he had been in Mexico City. Rechy s father, however, could no longer belong to the Mexican Imperial Symphony or make a decent wage with his music. After an unsuccessful attempt to compose music for the movie industry, he founded a newspaper but was run out of business for championing minorities and protesting poor working conditions (14). The only money he was able to make came from working in his doctor father s pharmacy (12), giving music lessons to children of the neighborhood, and selling pianos and sheet music at a local shop (14). After his father died, Roberto lost the family pharmacy and worked at several low-paying jobs-the first as a caretaker of a public park (14) and, after being fired from that job, as a hospital custodian (14). He went from having a brilliant career in classical music to becoming a janitor dealing with hospital waste in a society that does not value janitorial work, however essential it may be to public health and everyday functioning. Such was the reversal of his fortunes as a Mexican immigrant in southwest Texas, where, ironically, he held immigrant status in a state that was once a part of Mexico. Rechy s father s downhill slide in the United States-the reverse of the upward climb in a Horatio Alger story-certainly provided John Rechy with grounds for examining facile assumptions about the attainability and sustainability of the American Dream. From an early age, he was sharply aware of the often devastating collision between ideals and actualities.
Meanwhile, Roberto s marriage to Mary disintegrated under the pressures of family losses (including the untimely death of his first son), his declining social status, and his own infidelities. One day in El Paso he met Guadalupe Flores, who was from a working-class family from Chihuahua, Mexico. The Flores family had also settled in El Paso after fleeing the revolution in Mexico (13). Guadalupe had long dark hair and green eyes and was-by John Rechy s accounts and Casillo s descriptions based on those accounts-a beautiful, kind, and devoted woman who made the best of what turned out to be a hard marriage with Roberto.
The last of Guadalupe and Roberto s children, Rechy was born in 1931 in the early years of the Great Depression. Casillo wrote, Juan Francisco Rechy-who would one day become famous as a writer, John Rechy-was born into a house of decay and death and financial woes (17). By the time of Rechy s birth, his mother was saddened by the difficulties of her marriage and the loss of her first child, a daughter named Valeska. His father had turned into a bitter, angry man subject to smoldering rages and explosive temper tantrums who was emotionally and sometimes physically abusive toward his family and toward John in particular, driven, it would seem, by his demons of artistic failure and his homophobia (21). According to Casillo, John Rechy s early childhood was characterized by an intense and terrible feeling of isolation he felt powerless to escape (20). Nevertheless, Rechy survived by observing, reading, drawing, and writing, mostly secretly (20). He survived through his dream world in which he could draw pictures and write stories in which he controlled the characters destinies (33). And, starting in 1936, when the head priest of a neighborhood parish enlisted Rechy s father as the director of cultural activities for the parish, John acted in a number of theatrical productions that his father staged with the theater company that he began. According to Casillo, Because [Rechy s] father was such a completely changed man when involved in his productions, even John would sometimes agree to perform and become the star of his father s children s productions (27).
Rechy s modes of early survival-observing, reading, drawing, writing, acting, and escaping to movie theaters-shaped the themes and substance of his writing. Much of his writing is a form of creative synesthesia, combining aspects of drawing, acting, photography, cinematography, and music. The roots of his writing s synesthetic and intermedia qualities lie in these childhood and teenage survival tactics. Rechy uses writing as intermedia not only to survive hostility, isolation, and loneliness but also to provide a deep structure and vivid critique of many of the values of U.S. dominant culture.
In 1952 Rechy received a B.A. in English from Texas Western University (now the University of Texas at El Paso), and afterward served in the U.S. army, primarily to get away from home and especially from the shadow of his father. While in the army, he was sent to Dachau, Germany to teach for a time in an army school. He walked through Dachau s concentration camp, an experience that he claimed politicized him against all prejudice. 3 While on a leave during his time in the army, he travelled to Paris and headily took in the city, its architecture, museums, art galleries, plays, films, literature, gardens, and parks. Rechy made the most of his brief time in Paris, which filled him with exhilaration at a new, never-before-felt freedom, including (as compared to his experience in the United States) an erotic freedom that he sensed all around him but did not yet have the courage to act upon. 4 Decades later, in his 2008 memoir, he summarized his Paris experience: I had stepped into another world that I must have known long ago existed. Whatever necessary subterfuges I might have to concoct to live within it, I would not be able to abandon it (195).
After two years in the U.S. army, Rechy was granted early discharge to allow him to enroll as a graduate student at Columbia University, with tuition covered under the GI bill. However, he did not enter Columbia, instead choosing to attend the writing classes of Hiram Haydn (a senior editor at Random House) at the New School for Social Research in New York City. Moving to New York in the early 1950s, Rechy simultaneously embarked on a writing career and a career as a rough-trade male hustler catering to a male clientele interested in picking up a good-looking, masculine man of the working classes, or one appearing to be such. In New York and later in other cities (including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, and New Orleans), Rechy used hustling to experience, and yet also to distance himself from, his own homosexuality. Any hint of homosexuality had been the target of his father s homophobia, partly internalized by Rechy himself, as well as a target of the rampant national homophobia of the 1950s and 1960s.
Homophobia is not merely an attitude but is written into, and sanctioned by, unjust laws. In 1970, seven years after the publication of Rechy s first novel City of Night and seven years before the publication of his The Sexual Outlaw: A Documentary (1977), forty-nine states (Illinois being the exception) had laws that criminalized intimate relationships between persons of the same sex. 5 Prostitution, also illegal according to states laws (although legal in some rural counties in Nevada), provided a contradictory cover for being intimate with other men. Thus, Rechy could tell himself it was for money, and not out of desire, that he had sex with other men. Male prostitution, or hustling, and its role-playing also afforded a way for Rechy to work through his father s abusive behavior toward him, as well as to understand the intricacies of Rechy s position as a light-skinned Mexican American man from a subaltern family who had suffered a severe reversal of socioeconomic fortunes in U.S. territory. Like a Hispanic Hollywood star made over into an image more palatable to the dominant Anglo-American culture (such as Margarita Cansino who became Rita Hayworth and Jo Raquel Tejada who became Raquel Welch), he passed with his clients.
In fact, Rechy conformed to their fantasies while remaining in control of the encounter and reaped the rewards of feeling highly desirable. In the process of working out these attachment and status issues, Rechy slowly came to recognize that he was also seeking a deep emotional attachment to, and committed relationship with, another man, a relationship that he did indeed find at age forty-eight with longtime mate Michael Earl Snyder (also known as Michael Ewing), whom he met in 1979.
Development of Rechy s Oeuvre
Rechy s oeuvre is varied and multifaceted and spans many decades, but some descriptors apply to almost all of his works: groundbreaking (particularly in relation to homosexuality and sex work); transgressive; existentialist; confessional in an imaginative, not factual way; simultaneously Naturalistic and Romantic; French Symbolist in its deployment of color, music, and mood; experimental in terms of form and expression; carefully crafted in terms of style and point of view; highly structured and plotted; 6 and highly allusive of other works of literature, film, painting, and music, both overtly and covertly. All of Rechy s works are concerned with journeys of self-discovery or identity quests; desire; power; the breaking of rules (the sexual outlaw, for example); a critique of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression; exile; outsider status, both socially and artistically; the struggle to create a self; loneliness; aging; death; defensive narcissism (including the relentless pursuit of youth and beauty); and the search for meaningful connection and aliveness , however ephemeral, and even for a kind of salvation with art and the reality of artifice playing a central role in an everyday kind of redemption.
In the late 1940s Rechy had already begun his novel-writing, producing rough drafts of a semi-autobiographical novel ( The Bitter Roots ) and an historical novel ( Time on Wings ), both of which he abandoned. 7 Between 1948 and 1949 he composed a novel titled Pablo! , and, at the New School for Social Research, Rechy started-but did not finish-another novel, titled The Witch of El Paso , about his great-aunt, T a Ana, whom, he claims, had deer eyes and magical powers. 8 Pablo! , which opens in a Mayan village and ends in the city, features a boy who, like the protagonists of City of Night and Numbers , wants to be desired. 9 Excerpts of it appeared in the literary magazine Bachy (1980).
In 2016 the Los Angeles Review of Books printed an excerpt of Pablo! 10 Arte P blico Press accepted Chicano Studies Latin American Literature Professor Francisco Lomel s proposal to rescue Rechy s late 1940s novel from the obscurity of archival retirement and published a full, revised manuscript of Pablo! Spring 2018. Rechy s return to Pablo! indicates his investment in being recognized as a Latina/o author, a writer drawing not only from his own Mexican and Mexican American past, but also from the indigenous history and mythologies of the Americas. Included as part of the Arte P blico publication is an afterword by Francisco Lomel briefly exploring the novel in relation to Rechy s oeuvre and situating it, not in relation to American literature, but rather to Mesoamerican myth and folklore and certain novels by Latin American writers such as the Guatemalan Miguel ngel Asturias ( Hombres de ma z ) and the Peruvian Jos Mar a Arguedas ( Los r os profundos ). 11
During the late 1940s and the 1950s Rechy wrote poems, short stories, and nonfiction pieces. He continued to write nonfiction along with fiction throughout much of his writing career and experimented with blurring what he considered arbitrary distinctions between the two forms, at times presenting the work as fiction and at times as nonfiction. An early nonfiction piece was an expos of male hustling that detailed how to find hustlers, what they charged, and the locations they frequented. This piece, moralistic in tone-a feature that symptomatized Rechy s ambivalence about hustling (as both a desirable and undesirable activity)-was published under a pseudonym. Rechy s poetry was never published, though one could argue that much of his published work reads like prose poetry-is, in fact, prose poetry. In 1958 a piece titled Mardi Gras (that eventually became a chapter in his first published novel City of Night ) garnered the interest of Evergreen Review and also that of Donald Allen, then editor at Grove Press in New York, which published the novel in 1963.
According to Rechy, when City of Night first emerged, the book was attacked by reviewers-both for its subject matter and because its author was a hustler-in the New York Review of Books , the New Republic , and the New Yorker . However, it had already made Time s national bestseller list, and it remained on bestseller lists for almost seven months. A little later on, some excellent reviews began appearing, and eventually the book would be translated into about a dozen languages. 12 As Hernandez-Jason and Mart n-Rodr guez observed, When City of Night finally appeared in 1963 with Grove Press, it quickly became an international bestseller and early critics compared him [Rechy] to the French author Jean Genet, and the U.S. authors John Dos Passos, Tennessee Williams and Thomas Wolfe. 13 It was one of the first books of its kind-dealing openly with homosexuality and gender nonconformity, hustling, johns, and many kinds of often marginalized people (homeless and/or poor youth, drifters, vagrants, young women with a preference for hustlers, hoods, hobos, petty drug pushers, working-class women, senior citizens, gypsies, African Americans, Mexicans, and Native Americans, among others). It was also one of the first books of its kind by a Chicano writer.
Rechy s second novel, Numbers , which appeared in 1967 and was also published by Grove Press, is an example more along the lines of Poe s gothic tales of ratiocination with their mad, searing intensity. Here such intensity involves a young man attempting to defy age, death, and what he considers to be a sniper God. His defiance is similar to that of the narrator of City of Night . It takes the form of scoring with or having sex with as many men (numbers) as possible. Numbers is a word that connotes-among other things such as counting, taking aim (as in murder by numbers ) and getting into trouble (as in your number is up )-a kind of numbing accumulation. According to Hernandez-Jason and Mart n-Rodr guez, Numbers was widely read by gay readers, while the majority of reviewers panned the novel as pornographic and condemned what they presumed to be the homosexual lifestyle (12). Notwithstanding its dismissal by many reviewers, the novel has gotten as much, if not more, scholarly attention than the earlier City of Night , perhaps in part on account of its bold representations of the hunt for sex.
Rechy s third novel, This Day s Death , published in 1969 (also by Grove Press) returns to a much more tragic and tortured tone. It forces readers to confront, to borrow comparative literature and queer studies scholar Christopher Peterson s phraseology, what amounts to a very American disavowal of death and interdiction of mourning such that, in U.S. culture since the Civil War, death is treated almost as an aberration of life. 14 The novel gives a central rather than marginalized role to death, melancholia, and homosexuality struggling to be acknowledged. It reads a bit like a Eugene O Neill play, which is not surprising given that in 1966 Rechy wrote a one-act play with themes similar to those of the novel, which he titled Momma As She Became-But Not As She Was . 15 In This Day s Death a closeted man named Jim Girard slowly comes to terms with his homosexuality and with the imminent death of his Spanish-speaking Mexican, Catholic mother living in the United States. He has an emotionally close yet guilt-ridden relationship with his mother, exacerbated by the fact that he is not open with her about his homosexuality and that he is embroiled in a legal case after being accused of sex perversion by a vice cop on the beat in Griffith Park, Los Angeles. At the time Rechy was writing this novel, he himself was involved in an actual trial, having been arrested in Griffith Park, presumably for soliciting sex. Like Jim s mother, Rechy s own mother was going through a period of undiagnosable illness. 16 Rechy stated that he was under a lot of strain when he wrote This Day s Death , that it is the least favorite of his novels, and that an odious review of it appeared in the New York Times that coincided with his mother s death in the fall of 1970. 17 Despite the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Rechy s writing of the novel and his own mixed feelings about the book, it has an important place in his oeuvre, particularly in relation to literature, law, and advocacy.
In the early 1970s, in the wake of his mother s death, Rechy published two novels that critics have not known how to approach. As Hernandez-Jason and Mart n-Rodr guez stated in their co-edited volume, The Textual Outlaw: Reading John Rechy in the 21st Century: The most difficult novels of Rechy s for critics are The Vampires (1971) and The Fourth Angel (1972) . Homosexuality is a secondary or even tertiary theme, as is ethnic identity. Instead, The Vampires and The Fourth Angel careen off into an exploration of the nature of evil, sin, and innocence (12). As they also point out, The Fourth Angel , published by Viking Press, was the first book by Rechy that was not published by Grove Press (12). Considering the context of the early 1970s and the flourishing, at least in the United States and Europe, of an aesthetics of horror, especially in the form of horror films (slashers included) with-as art historian and curator Susan Owens points out, their burden of violence, bloodshed, and shock -Rechy s early 1970s novels did not exactly careen off, but, rather, were written in the vein of a certain popular expression of their times while being experimental in form. 18
These novels are prime examples of an experimental fusion of art forms: writing with theater and film techniques. (In fact, based on The Fourth Angel , Rechy later wrote a play, which was performed off Broadway at Playhouse 91 in the 1986-87 season, titled Tigers Wild ; it was produced in Los Angeles as The Fourth Angel .) As such, they are not so different from the rest of Rechy s work. They merely concentrate, to an intense degree, aspects of Rechy s other works beginning with his 1963 City of Night. The Vampires mixes tropes of a murder mystery, Poe-like gothic fantasy, horror, and the occult, and biblical themes of sin, damnation, judgment, and exorcism. It prefigures the full-blown, psychedelic, and prophetic visionary aspects of The Fourth Angel. The Vampires creates scenes reminiscent of 1930s expressionistic horror films such as the 1932 Vampyr by Carl Theodor Dreyer and the 1950s to 1970s underground experimental films of Kenneth Anger, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), Scorpio Rising (1964), Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969), and Lucifer Rising (1972). The difference between The Vampires and The Fourth Angel is that the latter is starker and less fantastical, and more brutally realistic, visionary, and prophetic. That contradictory combination testifies to the two persistent techniques that fuel Rechy s ongoing critique of U.S. culture: his social realism tending toward naturalism and his prophetic judgment upon it, both of which challenge the culture to the very core of its value system.
In 1977 Rechy returned to Grove Press to publish a sixth major work, The Sexual Outlaw: A Documentary . This can be considered Rechy s sixth novel because in his 1984 Foreword to this work he refers to The Sexual Outlaw as his new approach to the so-called non-fiction novel. 19 Whereas his previous works clearly fit under the genre of novels (however semi-autobiographical many aspects of them were), this sixth work is described on its title page as A Non-Fiction Account, with Commentaries of Three Days and Nights in the Sexual Underground. As Hernandez-Jason and Mart n-Rodr guez summarize, It combines newspaper clippings, short accounts of one man s sexhunt la Numbers , and excerpts from interviews and fictional speeches. 20 As Chicana/o studies and contemporary U.S. literature scholar Rafael P rez-Torres observed, The Sexual Outlaw represents John Rechy s most overtly political novel. 21 It is the book that comes closest to approaching a theoretical and political treatise on the role of sex for the (male) homosexual community in the United States. 22 After City of Night , it is one of Rechy s better-known works (partly on account of the many censorship battles), synonymous with his name and persona.
Rechy s seventh novel, titled Rushes and published in 1979 by Grove Press, covers territory similar to that of The Sexual Outlaw . However, it differs from The Sexual Outlaw in significant ways and embodies yet another experiment with genre. Rushes is a more conventionally fictional novel and more theatrical than filmic. Not surprisingly, shortly before publishing it, Rechy wrote a play based on the novel, using the same title. The novel retains a very theatrical feel in every respect, not least of which is its focus on stage-like costumed (leather) scenes on the wharfs and in the bars and its mimicking of the 14 Stations of the Cross, which suggests a morality play or the religious enactments of the Penitentes. According to Hernandez-Jason and Mart n-Rodr guez, There were very few reviews of [the novel] Rushes in the usual mainstream newspapers, and gay publications were sometimes critical of the anti-sadomasochism stance of the novel (13).
Rechy s eighth novel, Bodies and Souls , published in 1983 by Carroll Graf Publishers, adjusts its framing to include a wider spectrum of society-denizens of the city of Los Angeles regardless of sexual orientation. As the back cover of the book indicates, characters include a female porn superstar; a young Chicano punk-rock fan; a Bel Air matron and her tyrannical husband, a Supreme Court judge; an aging male stripper; a black maid with apocalyptic visions; and a cynical TV anchorwoman. Though the field is wider than that of Rushes it still corresponds to a particular location-Los Angeles. Bodies and Souls took Rechy three years to write. In his 2001 introduction to this novel, he claimed that he considered it one of his very best and that in it he tried to convey Los Angeles not as a superficial or flippant land of the inherited clich s, but instead as the most spiritual and physical of cities, a profound city which drew to it the various bright and dark energies of the country. 23 Though by no means as popular as City of Night , this novel garnered praise from both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times Book Review for its epic scope rendering intertwined lives, its memorable characters, and its rich prose, both luminous and dark, and evocative of classic Hollywood film as well as European art house cinema. This novel is Rechy s Nathanael West-inflected Los Angeles version of Thornton Wilder s 1927 The Bridge of San Luis Rey , the prototype for narratives involving epic disasters that befall a group of previously unrelated people in a particular location. Rechy s extended concentration on Los Angeles in Bodies and Souls cemented his reputation as a Los Angeles Writer, a designation with which he took issue to the extent that it has been used as a euphemism for minor. 24
In 1988 Rechy s ninth novel, Marilyn s Daughter: A Novel , was published, again with Carroll Graf, a publishing company co-founded in 1982 by the former editorial director (1975-1981) of Grove Press, Kent Carroll, and Herman Graf, Executive Vice President of Grove Press. While Grove Press (founded in 1947) specialized in avant-garde literature and theater with a particular emphasis on books that challenge status quo ideas about sexuality, Carroll Graf offered a range of fiction and nonfiction including history, biography, current affairs, mysteries, and science fiction. Marilyn s Daughter works with many of these categories-fiction, nonfiction, history, biography, and mystery. It is a semi-historical novel situated in the late 1980s but harking back to events that transpired mostly in the spring and summer of 1962. Memory and action within the frame of the novel move the reader about twenty years back from 1962, to the 1940s, and about twenty years forward, to the 1980s. The work differs from an historical novel in that it does not attempt to move back into the past so much as to bring it [the past] forth with new life, as Rechy remarked numerous times. This difference in objective hinges on Rechy s conviction that the truth changes with new memories and that sometimes it s necessary to invent what isn t there in order to clarify what is. 25 Reception to this book was divided, with some reviewers not approving of its mixture of fact and fiction. It has received very little critical attention, some of the least critical attention of all his works, vying for scholarly neglect with the 2003 The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens . And, as Hernandez-Jason and Mart n-Rodr guez point out, the title and cover art might have kept some scholars and serious literary critics from even reading the book, while Marilyn Monroe fans read the book and eagerly wrote to Rechy, asking if it were really true that Monroe had a secret daughter. 26 The Ted Gonzales subplot initiates an important development in Rechy s work-a direct treatment of Chicana/o socioeconomic and political issues and of the Chicana/o civil rights struggle. Those reviewers who focused overly much on its relation to the Monroe-Kennedy story seem to have missed the ways in which the novel was responding, and also contributing, to feminist as well as Chicana/o civil rights sensibilities.
Rechy s tenth novel, The Miraculous Day of Amalia G mez , published in 1991 by Arcade Publishing, takes this directness and openness about Chicana/o issues to an entirely new level. It combines some of the tactics developed in Marilyn s Daughter and the spotlighting of a female protagonist with the creation of Rechy s strongest Mexican American character: Amalia G mez. She is a strong Latina character not only in relation to Rechy s work but to the work of Latina/o writers in the United States and of U.S. writers more generally. As Hernandez-Jason and Mart n-Rodr guez observe, this novel is often included in Chicana/o literature courses because of its obvious emphasis on Chicana/o issues and themes. This emphasis is more extensive than in any other of Rechy s novels even though Mexican American and/or Chicana/o characters appear in many of his works, such as City of Night, The Vampires, The Fourth Angel, Bodies and Souls, Marilyn s Daughter, Our Lady of Babylon , and The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens . 27
Both Marilyn s Daughter and The Miraculous Day of Amalia G mez formed part of Rechy s attempts to keep his work from being ghettoized under the category gay, male fiction or some equivalent, and they did garner other readers. As Rechy reaffirmed in a 1995 interview with scholar Debra Castillo, he does not like labels, considering them to frequently result in restrictive pigeonholing and ghettoization. 28 However, according to Hernandez-Jason and Mart n-Rodr guez, neither the publication of Marilyn s Daughter nor The Miraculous Day of Amalia G mez resulted in what Rechy seemed to want-acknowledgment that he is an American writer, American without qualifiers (14). Rechy tried again to reach this goal with his eleventh novel, Our Lady of Babylon .
Published in 1996 by Arcade Publishing and distributed by Little, Brown, and Company, Our Lady of Babylon continues, with heightened intensity, the defense of women in the face of patriarchy s long history of misogyny and the scapegoating of women for the ills of society throughout human history. As with the earlier Marilyn s Daughter and The Miraculous Day of Amalia G mez , it sympathetically explores the epic travails of women to defend themselves against the daily onslaught and exploitation of predatory, patriarchal societies. Distinguishing itself from these earlier novels, however, Our Lady of Babylon combines a prose style derived from eighteenth-century erotic and pornographic literature with metaphysical Gnostic elements of the 1971 The Vampires and the 1972 The Fourth Angel to put God the Father (but not the Son) on trial for these outrages, beginning with the framing and blaming of Eve in Eden, which perpetuates a virgin/whore dichotomy harmful to women s social, mental, and physical wellbeing. Our Lady of Babylon is replete with controversial retellings of Old Testament and, especially, New Testament narratives. For instance, similarly to the apocryphal Gospel of Judas , Judas is represented in a positive light. Rechy even goes so far as to include a sexual tryst between Jesus, Judas, and Mary Magdalene. Despite the ambitiously controversial material in this novel, it never received much attention.
Rechy s twelfth novel, The Coming of the Night , published in 1999 by Grove Press, returns to an almost exclusively male homosexual world and targets a gay male readership. It combines many of the concerns of the 1979 Rushes with the episodic, multicharacter structure of the 1963 City of Night . In fact, Grove Press explicitly marketed The Coming of the Night as a modern sequel to City of Night . 29 Composed of ten chapters each divided into exactly twelve vignettes titled by a person s name or a couple s names, The Coming of the Night is even more plotted than City of Night . Published in 1999 but set in 1981 before the full-blown ravages of the AIDS epidemic or a public awareness of the disease, 30 each vignette is built around the sexual fantasies and adventures of the characters after whom it is named. 31 The vignettes are each written in the third person, with the narrative perspective often shifting from third person omniscient to a third person limited perspective where what readers see and feel is aligned with the experience of a particular character to the exclusion of the others. Rechy takes advantage of this alternation to underscore how different characters perspectives misalign with each other. This revelation of misalignment through the juxtaposition of third person limited perspectives conveys how fantasies collide and how slippery one s grasp of reality is. The effect is sometimes comic, but more often tragicomic and also tragic. The novel ends with a physically traumatizing orgy that belies sexual utopia and that channels some of the anguish wrought by the HIV/AIDS crisis as experienced in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens , Rechy s thirteenth novel, published in 2003 with Grove Press, was advertised and understood as a riotous Bildungsroman loosely inspired by [Henry] Fielding s Tom Jones . 32 Like English novelist and playwright Henry Fielding s 1749 picaresque novel and bildungsroman, it is structured into multiple episodes. It even contains a character (a gambler) named Henry Fielding (Enrique Fielding). As with Fielding s Tom Jones, the central protagonist, Lyle Clemens, has a mother, but his father is unknown and/or absent for most of the novel. Also like Tom Jones, Lyle is lusty, kind-hearted, and na ve. He is more or less banished from his home and travels long distances, not across Britain to London as did Tom Jones, but from Texas to California. As with Tom Jones s journey, Lyle s involves sexual liaisons with various women. Both novels are characterized by irreverent bawdiness, but Rechy s novel mixes a good deal of tragedy into raunchy comedy, producing a complex tragicomic picaresque.
As with Fielding s novel, Lyle Clemens has its central male hero encounter a wide range of characters. He experiences a considerable amount of deceit, abuse, betrayal, and heart-breaking disappointment. Also as with Fielding s work, Rechy s novel deploys these tragiccomic picaresque adventures to critique society. Lyle Clemens takes aim at socioeconomic and ethno-racial inequalities; at social injustice against ethnic and sexual minorities and the socioeconomically disenfranchised; at religious hypocrisy in the form of exploitative televangelists; at Los Angeles and more broadly at U.S. Hollywood culture, greedily invested in image, fame, and fortune at any cost; and at the cruel indifference of the U.S. hypercapitalist system that, for example, exploits sad lost runaway kids for the Internet porn industry. 33
Reading Lyle Clemens in relationship to Fielding s Tom Jones is, however, only one of many possible comparisons. Equally important are the parallels with other novels such as Mark Twain s mid 1880s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and also with other art forms more generally, comparisons that bring us back to the discussion of synesthetic, multisensory writing and intermedia mentioned earlier. Lyle Clemens is an example of intermedia for any number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that illustrations (by Donald Hendricks) accompany the start of every chapter and these illustrations substantially contribute to establishing for readers the essential qualities of particular characters.
In 2004, with Carroll Graf Publishers, Rechy published Beneath the Skin , a collection of over four decades (1958 to 2004) of his essays, reviews, and letters, with additional author commentary. The range of topics in the volume is wide: growing up in El Paso del Norte; living in pre-Stonewall Los Angeles; violations of civil liberties and harassment in the U.S. army; court cases attempting to amend the Constitution to curtail LGBTQ rights; a critique of sexual orientation conversion therapy; reviews of films; reviews of particular works by famous authors such as William Burroughs, Carson McCullers, Christopher Isherwood, and Rechy s much beloved writer Kathleen Winsor (author of the racy, bestselling 1944 novel Forever Amber set in Restoration England); and critiques of war-mongering patriotism in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the George W. Bush presidency. The collection also includes his 1991 essay The Outlaw Sensibility: Liberated Ghettos, Noble Stereotypes, and A Few More Promiscuous Observations that, in the process of considering some famous outlaws in myth and literary history, serves as a map and key to Rechy s own techniques as a writer. In Beneath the Skin , the mixture of literary inventiveness with a socially realist, journalistic awareness of the influence wielded by juridical practices and political formations provides a useful template or legend through which to read Rechy s oeuvre as a whole.
In 2008, Rechy published with Grove Press his memoir About My Life and the Kept Woman , which includes biographical information and family photographs but unapologetically continues his blurring of whatever lines are customarily drawn between fact and fiction. Five pages in, opposite a black and white photo of Rechy reclining and gazing at two reflections of himself so that the viewer sees three John Rechy s, he has placed the following declaration in capital letters: THIS IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED; IT IS WHAT IS REMEMBERED. ITS SEQUENCE IS THE SEQUENCE OF RECOLLECTION . 34 The memoir begins with controversy over his sister s wedding, swirling on the border of two juxtaposed cities-Ju rez in Mexico and El Paso in Texas (1). It moves swiftly toward an incandescent memory of the groom s older sister, Marisa Guzman. She was the mistress or kept woman of one of Mexico s most powerful men (Augusto de Leon) who defies her father s curses by attending the wedding of Rechy s sister. Young Rechy is fascinated with the kept woman. His description of her suggests that she is his equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci s Mona Lisa (Nat King Cole s song Mona Lisa also comes to mind) and St. John the Baptist, charismatic and mysterious: There was about her an aura of sublime aloofness-or welcome isolation her lips tilted, the inception of a vague smile (25). In Rechy s mind, she bequeaths him a glorious blessing (26). As the memoir weaves that memory through pivotal moments of his life, the meaning of the blessing reveals itself: courage to be his own creation and not be ashamed of who he is (356). As with so much of Rechy s work, the memoir is deeply existential, championing the cause of creating one s life against the odds and, in the face of hatred, prejudice, humiliation, and judgment, being committed to that creation, however much an outcast or outsider. The memoir also champions the acts of reading, writing, viewing films, and of making art as a way to live .
In 2017, continuing his experiments with the normative categories fiction and nonfiction, Rechy published with Grove Press a short novel, his fourteenth, titled After the Blue Hour . A brief exchange between modernist writer Gertrude Stein ( What is the question? ) and her partner Alice B. Toklas serves as the book s epigraph. This emphasis on the question should alert readers to the fact that this narrative engages readers on a philosophical level about how the questions we ask ourselves shape who we become. At the very least, we have been alerted to the emphasis on the question-or on enigmas, the answer to which may be found, if at all, in how we interpret and approach the enigmas. The fact that this question is introduced through the lesbian modernist writer Stein who, according to U.S. literary critic Edmund Wilson, simultaneously drew upon and outdistanced any of the Symbolists in using words for pure purposes of suggestion, testifies to Rechy s own canny continuation of Symbolist interests in the effects of literature and the arts upon the whole person, and to his repurposing of certain late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century modernist concerns with a philosophy of art as it relates to lived experience. 35
The epigraph in After the Blue Hour is followed by a prologue that provides an everyday factual context for the eerie, increasingly sinister story that follows. In many ways, the story hybridizes Oscar Wilde s 1890 aestheticism novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and Henry James s gothic 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw , both works subject to numerous adaptations and reworkings, including, for the latter, an opera by Benjamin Britten. The story points to Rechy s interest in debates about the relations and tensions between aesthetics and ethics in Decadent literature of the end of the nineteenth century, a time when the differences between social classes grew as industrialized capitalism triumphed in the United States-as it did in similar nations between 1870 and 1890-and staggering amounts of wealth concentrated in the hands of a few (the industrialist business owners who exploited their workers).
Rechy s prologue informs readers that in 1960 a man contacted him after having read two of his stories, Mardi Gras and The Fabulous Wedding of Miss Destiny, which later became chapters of his 1963 novel City of Night . The man wrote Rechy that he has opened the door into a world that few people know exists dominated by demonic clowning angels. 36 The man invites Rechy to join him for the summer on his private island (2-3) in the middle of a lake. A twenty-four-year-old Rechy leaves Los Angeles for the summer and joins his late-thirties host, whom Rechy soon discovers has a mistress and a son. Later he learns that his host seduced, married, and divorced two women, a diplomat s daughter and the heiress to a vast fortune from whom he wrested money and property. What at first promises to be a relaxing sojourn on a private island, talking about literature and film during the enchantment of the evening s blue hour (a French Symbolist touch), turns into a rising tide of rivalry and double-crossing eroticism in the shadow of the ominous presence of another or parallel island on the lake. This other island is abandoned and rumored to have suffered a terrible fire that burned its guests to death.
After the Blue Hour explores the seductive fascination of evil through a portrayal of the allure of the Henry Wotton/Dorian Gray-like host while simultaneously exposing the monstrosity of his selfishness and greed and of the money-and-wealth-dazzled U.S. culture out of which the host emerged. The novel rehearses some of the themes and situations of the 1971 The Vampires , although in a context more suitable to the present socioeconomic disparities and political direction of the United States. As with Rechy s memoirs and so many of his other works, After the Blue Hour is invested in existentialism, especially in the face of the manipulations of power. At one point in the story Rechy recalls reading Camus s The Myth of Sisyphus and quotes from it: The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your act of existence is an act of rebellion (32). In After the Blue Hour , this attempt to be free is burdened by the enigma of evil and what it might take to come to terms with, in order to repudiate, its seductive influence.
Part of the exploration of agency in the face of cunning evil involves the activity of imagining one s own story instead of letting someone else imagine it for you. Creating fiction depends on being able to imagine. Rechy s defense of fiction is also a defense of the imagination and its capacity to produce a more authentic relationship to a subject or situation under the camouflage of fiction (8). After the Blue Hour operates at various narrative levels. On one level, it simply tells the story, relatively sequentially. On another level, in a sort of total art / Gesamtkunstwerk approach, it introduces multiple situations of reading, looking (at paintings, for example), interpreting, and writing in addition to listening. It also includes self-reflexive dialogue and interior monologue that comment on the unreliability of memory and on the writer s or storyteller s deliberate shaping of the story not in slavish imitation to so-called facts but in relation to patterns that reveal the basic dynamics of a relationship or situation over time. Readers should keep in mind that the events recounted in the 2017 After the Blue Hour supposedly transpired in the summer of 1960. Undoubtedly, the novel s setting on the private island of what turns out to be an unsavory wealthy man resonated even more strongly in 2017, the novel s publication year, than it might have in 1960 during the Great Prosperity years (1947-1977) in the United States when the gap between haves and have-nots was much smaller than in the second decade of the twenty-first century. 37
CHAPTER 2
Male Homosexual Odysseys as Cultural Critique
City of Night, Numbers, This Day s Death , and The Coming of the Night
City of Night (1963), Numbers (1967), This Day s Death (1969), and The Coming of the Night (1999), the latter advertised by Grove Press as a sequel to City of Night , all focus on the journeys of young men. With the 1960s narratives the young men are in the process of coming to terms with-and are at different stages of awareness and exploration of-their homosexuality. The first two novels deal largely with male-male hustling and with hustling as a kind of initial cover-an excuse for being with and desiring other men while retaining a culturally constructed, normative masculinity. The last novel from the 1960s, This Day s Death , and the late 1990s novel, The Coming of the Night , are not focused on hustling, but rather on same-sex desire for its own sake, without the exchange of money. There is a definite shift in interest from male-male hustling with homosexuality as a constitutive factor (at least for one party in the exchange) to homosexual desire for itself that reflects a changing conception of self not only for the protagonists but for their stories author as well. Regardless, in all these four cases, the focus is very much on the young male protagonists and other men and occasional women with whom they interact. This grouping of novels spans thirty-six years. The struggles of the young men in the novels published between 1963 and 1969 bear more resemblance to one another than to those of the men in the 1999 The Coming of the Night . However, continuities exist, and that is one of the implications of the 1999 novel.
All the novels share many key themes and concerns. Among these are the need to flee dead ends and traps created by repressive, uncomprehending families; homophobic social violence and/or legalized persecution of homosexuality; the hypocrisy of society and the blatant outrageousness of its often persecutory laws; outlawry in a society bent on exiling gay people from full acceptance (symbolized as Heaven in City of Night); keen desires for liberation of the self from repression/oppression and to be oneself; equally keen examinations of the operations of power, hierarchy, scripts, and labeling that limit nourishing human bonds; vivid representations, through description and dialogue, of experiences of disconnection and isolation, loneliness, and hauntings; flight from potential relationships; critique of U.S. society and its expectations and illusions achieved through the protagonists dissent from compulsory heteronormativi

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