Based in part on John Rechy’s own experiences as an itinerant male prostitute in the late 1950’s, City of Night is a powerful evocation of a nameless narrator’s journey through the underside of America’s urban wastelands and a haunting description of the different people he encounters there.
City of Night is divided into four parts, roughly equivalent to the narrator’s stays in New York, Los Angeles, Hollywood, and New Orleans. It is further divided into short character sketches—named after the individuals who are described—that alternate with sections entitled “City of Night,” which propel the action forward. The entire novel is a first-person narrative told by the nameless narrator-protagonist, and all actions are filtered through his consciousness.
The novel begins in El Paso, Texas, the narrator’s hometown, with the death of his dog, an event that shapes his consciousness and to which he returns repeatedly throughout the novel. When the child is told that dogs cannot go to heaven, he experiences a loss of faith that is exacerbated by the fact that the dog’s decaying carcass has to be reburied because of its smell.
Both parents are impoverished Mexican immigrants, and the home offers the child no escape from the mother’s suffocating Catholicism and fierce, protective love and the father’s increasingly erratic and threatening behavior, which often manifests itself in terrifying rituals of affection. The narrator’s hatred of his father leads to both acts of rebellion and withdrawal from life. This emotional withdrawal increases his isolation so that his mirror becomes the most important object in his life; for him, it narcissistically confirms the reality of his undecayed, youthful body.
Restless after a tour of duty in the Army, the narrator hurls himself into the large cities of America, where he quickly learns to...
(The entire section is 782 words.)