Rechy, John (Vol. 14)
In three important novels of the American literature of homosexuality—Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar, Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, and John Rechy's City of Night—there is a changing relationship between the two poles of the "gay world" and the personal homosexual relationship, with the gay world as an emerging metaphor. The culmination of this emergence occurs, I think, in Rechy's novel, where the "gay world" and all its parts overwhelm not only the possibility of any relationship implying human involvement, but also the existence of the particular characters who would form this relationship if they could, and especially the existence of what is meant to be the center of focus in that novel, the narrator as character, and where it functions as a metaphor for a destructive and despair-ridden American reality. The America of these novels is the possibility of a vast hell always defining a smaller and intense personal hell.
That the "gay world" is seen literally as the threat to the individual homosexual trying to love and to define himself is understandable…. The feeling is that this world can explain both how hard it is to love in America and how necessary it is to love in America. In this last respect, the function of the "gay world" in these novels is in part rhetorical, serving to establish the necessity of love (not to love is to achieve this terrible world), and in part sociological, serving to...
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Rechy's City of Night follows in its way much the same path that Kerouac traced in On the Road, eastside, westside and all around the country. And part of his desire—wild reaching of the writer's organism—is to swing this huge cityscape wordwise with a series of variations on the theme of the male hustlers' experiences in the homerotic world through which his narrator wanders. The novel is sure to be read as a confessional exposé documenting the night side of homosexual life. Which it is. But it seems to me that Rechy has a deeper than confessional interest in the nationwide sexual skid road he writes about. The determining factor there is not so much this, that or some other sexual inclination, but what is much worse, a starved male impotence so pervasive that any momentary recognition of sexual existence at all is the real dime some buddy may be persuaded to spare. That his narrator is searching for the sources of this impotence accounts for the at times strict, almost clinical aspects of the journey. But a deeper striving, some dream of the father, causes the writer to swing his huge city of dreadful male night at the strong wrist of what is at times a heroic writing nerve and style. (pp. 155-56)
Warren Tallman, "The Writing Life" (copyright © 1976 by Warren Tallman; reprinted by permission of the author), in Open Letter, Third Series, No. 6, Winter, 1976–77, pp. 150-58....
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[The Sexual Outlaw is a] fictionalized "non-fiction" account of a "true spectrum of the [homosexual] promiscuous experience", three days and nights in the life of Jim ("sometimes Jerry, sometimes John") alias John Rechy….
By a quantitative measure, this sexual marathon seems to rate highly. And yet The Sexual Outlaw is not erotic, and is unlikely to excite anyone but a member of the Festival of Light. The "youngmen" (Rechy's own curious word) Jim, etc, encounters … are so lightly characterized as to be as enticing as a rubber model filled with warm water….
The interest is in "Jim" alone, his body-building, his naive pride in his good looks …, and his obsession with "scoring". However the nakedness of the exposure of this obsession lends the book a certain raw energy, without which it would be intolerable. It is still a long way behind Rechy's first book, City of Night, which was published in 1964. This uncovered for many the world of the male hustler, and moved by its often powerful reticence and its ability to create memorably comic characters. City of Night was overwritten and pretentious, too, but since then Rechy has progressed to the dizzy height of a teacher of creative writing at the University of California at Los Angeles, and his novels have become more consciously arty. Thus The Sexual Outlaw begins with quotations from Camus and Melville, and ends with a satisfying...
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