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When John Rechy's explosive first novel, City of Night, was first published in 1963, it became a national bestseller and ushered in a new era of gay fiction. Bold and inventive in his account of the urban underworld of male prostitution, Rechy is equally unflinching in his portrayal of one hustling "Youngman" and his restless search for self-knowledge. As the narrator care When John Rechy's explosive first novel, City of Night, was first published in 1963, it became a national bestseller and ushered in a new era of gay fiction. Bold and inventive in his account of the urban underworld of male prostitution, Rechy is equally unflinching in his portrayal of one hustling "Youngman" and his restless search for self-knowledge. As the narrator careens from El Paso to Times Square, from Pershing Square to the French Quarter, we get an unforgettable look at a neon-lit life on the edge. Said James Baldwin of the author, "Rechy is the most arresting young writer I've read in a very long time. His tone rings absolutely true, is absolutely his own; and he has the kind of discipline which allows him a rare and beautiful reckless."


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When John Rechy's explosive first novel, City of Night, was first published in 1963, it became a national bestseller and ushered in a new era of gay fiction. Bold and inventive in his account of the urban underworld of male prostitution, Rechy is equally unflinching in his portrayal of one hustling "Youngman" and his restless search for self-knowledge. As the narrator care When John Rechy's explosive first novel, City of Night, was first published in 1963, it became a national bestseller and ushered in a new era of gay fiction. Bold and inventive in his account of the urban underworld of male prostitution, Rechy is equally unflinching in his portrayal of one hustling "Youngman" and his restless search for self-knowledge. As the narrator careens from El Paso to Times Square, from Pershing Square to the French Quarter, we get an unforgettable look at a neon-lit life on the edge. Said James Baldwin of the author, "Rechy is the most arresting young writer I've read in a very long time. His tone rings absolutely true, is absolutely his own; and he has the kind of discipline which allows him a rare and beautiful reckless."

30 review for City of Night

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Expansive and electric, City of Night brings to life a young unnamed hustler’s coming of age. The autobiographical story follows the Texas-born protagonist as he treks across the country, from his hometown of El Paso to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New Orleans, meeting an eclectic bunch of outcasts, drag queens, and fellow sex workers along the way. The novel’s anthropological in its documentation of gay and trans social life; its chapters alternate between vivid portraits of cities Expansive and electric, City of Night brings to life a young unnamed hustler’s coming of age. The autobiographical story follows the Texas-born protagonist as he treks across the country, from his hometown of El Paso to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New Orleans, meeting an eclectic bunch of outcasts, drag queens, and fellow sex workers along the way. The novel’s anthropological in its documentation of gay and trans social life; its chapters alternate between vivid portraits of cities and incisive sketches of social types. Unlike the terse style of The Sexual Outlaw, Rechy’s prose here is baroque and breathtaking, and the author explores his themes with a greater sense of apprehension. At the core of the novel is the question of whether monogamy, or any kind of love, is possible for those forced to live and bond on the margins of society. Rechy doesn’t try to answer that question, but his consideration of it is brilliant. Well worth checking out.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    I just saw in the NYTimes that Grove is putting out the 50th anniversary edition - my heart stopped for just a second, and even as I'm writing this my stomach has that forbidden fruit feeling of something thrilling and frightening this way coming. (It's the same feeling I got well into my adult years when driving into NYC - an-tici-pation.) In 1963 I was a 17 years old and a totally alienated wanna-be hipster/beatnik reaching out for anything dark and maybe beautiful. I saw the American dream as I just saw in the NYTimes that Grove is putting out the 50th anniversary edition - my heart stopped for just a second, and even as I'm writing this my stomach has that forbidden fruit feeling of something thrilling and frightening this way coming. (It's the same feeling I got well into my adult years when driving into NYC - an-tici-pation.) In 1963 I was a 17 years old and a totally alienated wanna-be hipster/beatnik reaching out for anything dark and maybe beautiful. I saw the American dream as a klieg-lit freak show, and wanted nothing more than the shadows. City of Night was a primer, and a baby step into the world I was actually going to find myself in a few years later. I don't know how this book holds up, but it gets its five stars for the impact it had on me way back then. I'm glad to see it's still available, and amazed that its reissue has caused me such a visceral reaction on this fog-bound, living-room comfortable, cozy and warm Thanksgiving morning.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Travis Foster

    I'm not sure exactly what I expected from this novel, but it wasn't that it would break my heart so very many times over. Wow. I get why James Baldwin was such a fan. I'm not sure exactly what I expected from this novel, but it wasn't that it would break my heart so very many times over. Wow. I get why James Baldwin was such a fan.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sir He-Man

    Truly gripping and evocative. The ending was so incredibly touching. The book is filled with moments that perfectly capture the alienated gay culture of the 60s in an at times shocking way. In addition to the sullen and often mellow persona of John's personality, there are also moments punctuated here where drag queens just bring it ON. Colorful personalities bloom everywhere around him. This book is made of awesome and the prose is nothing less than gorgeous. A lot of this reminded me of Jack K Truly gripping and evocative. The ending was so incredibly touching. The book is filled with moments that perfectly capture the alienated gay culture of the 60s in an at times shocking way. In addition to the sullen and often mellow persona of John's personality, there are also moments punctuated here where drag queens just bring it ON. Colorful personalities bloom everywhere around him. This book is made of awesome and the prose is nothing less than gorgeous. A lot of this reminded me of Jack Kerouac, if he was more refined and could concentrate better. This is more streamlined than Kerouac's work, and though both shared a love for the scope of the American road and cityscapes, this is a memorable book for being one of the first to openly depict the often over or underlooked gay scene that was so consistently marginalized. So when the gushing honesty of its characters overflows onto the page, do not be surprised to find yourself in awe of what this book actually accomplishes.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Raymond

    City of Night, as I remember it, is a powerful, dead on depiction of the gay underworld of the late 50's, early sixties. For a young gay man, and occasional trick turner, it was a book that spoke to my experience in a world that did not want me to be. There is a particular scene in the book that stays with me still. During a Mardi Gras celebration, the protagonist (we never know his name) leaps on to a float carrying a beautiful young drag queen (Kathy, and her hustler lover (Jocko) and asks Kat City of Night, as I remember it, is a powerful, dead on depiction of the gay underworld of the late 50's, early sixties. For a young gay man, and occasional trick turner, it was a book that spoke to my experience in a world that did not want me to be. There is a particular scene in the book that stays with me still. During a Mardi Gras celebration, the protagonist (we never know his name) leaps on to a float carrying a beautiful young drag queen (Kathy, and her hustler lover (Jocko) and asks Kathy why she is smiling. "Because I'm going to die", she says. I've never forgotten that particular moment in the book. The whole of the book is encapsuled in that book- the tawdry glitter, the desperation under the affirmation of self. I once met Mr. Rechy at gay fund raiser and tried to speak to him about the why of the story and the why of that particular scene. He was taciturn, almost rude. Later I decided it was that I was too gushing in my praise and it made him uneasy. Maybe he was just tired of explaining it to idiots. I was so young, then. One thing I did learn from the book (and from my own experiences) is that tricks and Johns need each other and yet are so often contemptuous of each other. This is a perfect book for those who have known only After Stonewall. It is a history of the shadows gay people had to wrap around themselves. I know that my words here are not a review, proper. I don't have the background to comment on pure literary merit. It is, however, what it is.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kinga

    I stumbled upon this gay cult classic accidentally and went into it without knowing its status or significance. Though, the latter became apparent as I read. Published in 1963, it’s a picture of the underground gay culture pre-Stonewall, filled with excellent sociological observation and a cast of colourful characters (even if some of them become a little on the nose – I’m looking at you, Nazi masochist with daddy issues). The character’s journey of wanting love but fearing it and running away fr I stumbled upon this gay cult classic accidentally and went into it without knowing its status or significance. Though, the latter became apparent as I read. Published in 1963, it’s a picture of the underground gay culture pre-Stonewall, filled with excellent sociological observation and a cast of colourful characters (even if some of them become a little on the nose – I’m looking at you, Nazi masochist with daddy issues). The character’s journey of wanting love but fearing it and running away from it wasn’t maybe as ground-breaking but his circumstances must’ve been a novelty for a 1960s reader (obviously those readers who didn’t live those circumstances themselves). The public loved the book, but many reviewers were condescending and treated the author as some idiot-savant, denying the book a true literary value that comes from careful consideration, or even straight-out denying the existence of John Rechy. The narrator of the book never admits to himself he is gay, and in self-delusion insists he only turns tricks for money, and like many others in his position, fully believes one day he will abandon this life and start a wholesome heterosexual existence – the only place where real love is possible. Meanwhile he performs the fantasy of masculinity for his clients. Of course, he keeps returning to this demimonde in every city he goes to – New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, but never allowing himself true intimacy with another human being. He reacts with anger and contempt for anyone who attempts to get close to him. The reader gets a glimmer of hope that the narrator can free himself from his all-consuming self-loathing and get a happy ending of sorts if only the post-orgasm shame could be overcome. At least we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that the author of this semi-autobiographical novel found love and happiness in the end. Read this book if you’re tired of the polished, Mad Men-like vision of the 50s in America.

  7. 5 out of 5

    ALLEN

    CITY OF NIGHT is what you get when you cross headlong, Beat Generation writing with a young man's emerging sense of self as gay -- and it's a shocking and wonderful meld indeed. This 1963 novel stunned readers when it first appeared: the narrator whose father's friends demanded he "give them a thousand," his youth as a hustler, the lurking, intense romanticism of various American "entertainment districts." The novel combines an understanding not only of the insistent drumbeats of gay sexuality a CITY OF NIGHT is what you get when you cross headlong, Beat Generation writing with a young man's emerging sense of self as gay -- and it's a shocking and wonderful meld indeed. This 1963 novel stunned readers when it first appeared: the narrator whose father's friends demanded he "give them a thousand," his youth as a hustler, the lurking, intense romanticism of various American "entertainment districts." The novel combines an understanding not only of the insistent drumbeats of gay sexuality and male emotion but also the orange-drink-and-popcorn-scented center of the seediest American cities, ca. 1960. It can be read as "gay lit," of course, or simply as Americana, hot and heavy. I think it succeeds on both counts. John Rechy went on to write many other books, most notably THE SEXUAL OUTLAW, but in my opinion this one is his best.

  8. 5 out of 5

    David Gallagher

    I wanted to like this book more - I really did. Having been born post the AIDS/HIV discovery era, I was always fascinated by the kind of lifestyle previous to that, and at the same time, felt repulsed by it to a certain degree. The first chapters of this book are remarkable. Simply magnificent. The memories of childhood the narrator describes are so evocative and realistic it's unbelievable. Many quotes to remember and many things to delve into and take from. The language is the kind of language I wanted to like this book more - I really did. Having been born post the AIDS/HIV discovery era, I was always fascinated by the kind of lifestyle previous to that, and at the same time, felt repulsed by it to a certain degree. The first chapters of this book are remarkable. Simply magnificent. The memories of childhood the narrator describes are so evocative and realistic it's unbelievable. Many quotes to remember and many things to delve into and take from. The language is the kind of language I always loved - the language I wish I could manipulate the same way Rechy does. He can actually touch the words, feel them, weigh them, know their texture and taste. Rechy doesn't know what dashes or apostrophes mean, but that's exactly what sets him apart: he denies playing by the rules and he structures a whole different universe in which he is the king. Even if he tries too hard to prove he deserves the crown. But what didn't appeal to me in this book is the majority of the stories. I feel there are many we could have done without. The characters - despite their proximity to realism - feel contrite (today anyway) and don't make the gay community look beyond what the stereotypes for it say. It's depressing and heavy and a spoonful down your throat. I loved the beginning and ending sequences and the sentence which ends this book is simply brilliant. But at the end of the day, I think Rechy himself describes my feelings for this book in his last paragraphs: And what has been found? Nothing. A circle which winds around, without beginning, without end.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Lawrence

    Amazingly overdone. It's one of those books that I read really, really slowly just because I didn't want it to be over. Emotionally I think it touched on a lot of stuff I related to (and haven't read about before), to the point where I was willing--happy, even--to overlook things like the description of a hot dog cart as a relic from Hell. Amazingly overdone. It's one of those books that I read really, really slowly just because I didn't want it to be over. Emotionally I think it touched on a lot of stuff I related to (and haven't read about before), to the point where I was willing--happy, even--to overlook things like the description of a hot dog cart as a relic from Hell.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

    I gave it four stars... so you know I enjoyed it. But that doesn't mean I don't have a song and dance to tell you about it now. Let's commence shaking tailfeathers on this, but only one apiece. I don't want any injuries. Now, let's... talk... GRAMMAR. It's a freaking important part of our language. It can change entire meanings of phrases and sentences. But there are those that like to give you that "I'm an artist and it's how I form my craft" line. When really it's turd. And you do NOT want to I gave it four stars... so you know I enjoyed it. But that doesn't mean I don't have a song and dance to tell you about it now. Let's commence shaking tailfeathers on this, but only one apiece. I don't want any injuries. Now, let's... talk... GRAMMAR. It's a freaking important part of our language. It can change entire meanings of phrases and sentences. But there are those that like to give you that "I'm an artist and it's how I form my craft" line. When really it's turd. And you do NOT want to see how some of us form that art. I digress. What I meant to say was that Senor Rechy walks the fine line of those that can pull this off and those straight blow it. I understand the stream of conscience writing style, I mean I'm from Kerouac's hometown for godsakes! But don't pussyfoot around it! You can't just whimsically use commas and apostrophes one second and throw them to the wind the next. Gotta pick a side of the fence homey. That being said, one very important note I'd like to bring attention to in this is that it is the first book I've ever read with the phrase "sunbleached pubic hair" in it... I know you're shocked that I haven't dug that one up before... I didn't say I hadn't WRITTEN the phrase, just that I hadn't read it elsewhere. Pick up those dropped jaws kids. Which is maybe why I give Mr. Rechy bonus points. OR, perhaps because I really enjoyed his language and prose throughout it. I may never have been a transient male prostitute in my life (yet), but something rings true and warm in my soul with such quotes as: "The heart is deceitful above all things". I'm not lying that is BRILLIANT. I honestly just may have it tattooed on me. His life may not be your cup of tea, but I guarantee that everyone finds a way to relate to the life lessons he learns. To the protagonist, the end of youth is a kind of death. And he spends his life running from that death. Held jobs, but the street lured him back every time. Sure he could work a 9 to 5... so why keep returning to the streets... for me it's crack, but for him, it's much more... it's that early-life crisis we all have after college and when we're supposed to settle down and marry and have a family. Except usually we just go to Vegas and get a lil buckwild and a lil over it. It's never so easy for everyone. But everyone wants a taste of that sinister life. It's their draw to Mardi Gras and Vegas. They just want a taste of the city of night but not to reside there. However, some people are just drawn to it like some are drawn to be artists or engineers. It's a trade those who aren't a part of don't understand. But then that all comes tumbling down when he's questioned why he does it by someone who knows all too well: to avoid his worst fear of having to love someone. I will admit that thought is horrifying. Just THINK of all the x-mas and anniversary and valentine's day gifts. Good god. Bloodsuckers. Digressing again, he's deathly afraid to place himself in a vulnerable situation... as I feel we all honestly are. You don't want to leave yourself exposed to hurt, but it's the only way you can truly fill that void of loneliness. Instead, he fills that need w people who want him, but only in brief interludes so to never chance having to reciprocate emotions. All and all this book carries much more weight than the premise of it seems to entail. Which is why I gave it four stars. But work on that grammar homey. I'm only letting it slide once before I hi-five your face.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Isaac

    I read this because David Bowie cited it as one of his favorite books in an interview, and Bowie's got some good taste (did you know "Wham, bam, thank you mam" is a reference to a Charles Mingus song?) This book is basically a queer take on 'On the Road', featuring Rechy going around the big country hustling himself and writing about it in detail. He's incredibly laid back and observational about the whole thing, whether he's trying to milk money off a rich client in Los Angeles or watching a dr I read this because David Bowie cited it as one of his favorite books in an interview, and Bowie's got some good taste (did you know "Wham, bam, thank you mam" is a reference to a Charles Mingus song?) This book is basically a queer take on 'On the Road', featuring Rechy going around the big country hustling himself and writing about it in detail. He's incredibly laid back and observational about the whole thing, whether he's trying to milk money off a rich client in Los Angeles or watching a drag queen kick the shit out of a heckler in New Orleans. Lou Reed definitely read this book at some point, since the lyrical sensibility matches up perfectly. Someone's going to make a movie out of this one day.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    Oh the places I go in My Big Fat Reading Project! At #7 on the 1963 bestseller list, this novel was a ground breaker in gay fiction. I had never heard of it but my cohort in the Literary Snobs reading group knew all about it. In some ways it was unlike anything I have ever read while in other ways it felt familiar compared to some of the Beat fiction I have read. Largely autobiographical, the story follows a young man through his peripatetic nightlife as a hustler in the dark streets of El Paso, Oh the places I go in My Big Fat Reading Project! At #7 on the 1963 bestseller list, this novel was a ground breaker in gay fiction. I had never heard of it but my cohort in the Literary Snobs reading group knew all about it. In some ways it was unlike anything I have ever read while in other ways it felt familiar compared to some of the Beat fiction I have read. Largely autobiographical, the story follows a young man through his peripatetic nightlife as a hustler in the dark streets of El Paso, Times Square, Pershing Square (in Los Angeles), the French Quarter of New Orleans, and the Mission District of San Francisco. His lonely, frenetic existence is portrayed as a search for identity and connection but the milieu in which he searches is a desperate world of disconnection and confused identities, made up of hustlers, queens, secret slumming homosexual men, and sad women, a few of whom are lesbians. In fact, there are few women in the book and those few seemed like stereotypes. What was brought home to me is how horrid life could be for gay people in mid-twentieth century America. So much secrecy, confusion, guilt and personal disintegration was necessarily their plight. Though the endless rehashing of similar scenes got to be too much for me as a reader, I wondered if life is much better for gay persons in our present time. I can't really know because I am heterosexual and though I have gay friends there is a reticence between us when it comes to talking about sexual orientation. Is that my doing? I want to ask about or discuss what that aspect of their lives is like but I feel shy about doing so. I was raised to be homophobic and confess that it took some doing to get over that prejudice. Mostly, it took reading books. So I thank the writers who have opened their hearts and minds in their novels and memoirs, their essays and poetry. I don't mean to sound disingenuous, but like someone who hated a certain food as a kid but grew up to like it, I can barely remember what it was like to harbor that homophobia in the past. Yet, I feel more comfortable with olives than I do with my fellow human beings whose sexual orientation is different from mine. In any case, City of Night was a wild, sometimes uncomfortable read that brought me more understanding of what is means to be human. It also made me sorrow for the ways we mistreat each other.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Gallaway

    This book should be required reading for anyone interested in 1950s/60s "underground culture" (for lack of a better term, or sort of the opposite of straight, white, heteronormative Mad Men). The book is about a mostly gay hustler who drifts through the major U.S. cities and in the process manages to dissect quite a few stereotypes that are still very pervasive on the gender/sexuality front and also manages to invent a new language to describe what feels like a new world. Lonely, punishing, and This book should be required reading for anyone interested in 1950s/60s "underground culture" (for lack of a better term, or sort of the opposite of straight, white, heteronormative Mad Men). The book is about a mostly gay hustler who drifts through the major U.S. cities and in the process manages to dissect quite a few stereotypes that are still very pervasive on the gender/sexuality front and also manages to invent a new language to describe what feels like a new world. Lonely, punishing, and transcendent.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jim Grimsley

    When I picked this book to write about this morning, I noticed that a lot of my friends have written about it, which is natural, since this is an iconic gay male novel, born out of an era in which writing of this blunt honesty was nearly impossible. This is the kind of book that Grove Press was known for, edgy and hard. It is also the kind of book that people speak of as hard, edgy, frank, which means that the writer treats sex in a particular way; at least I find that to be true most of the tim When I picked this book to write about this morning, I noticed that a lot of my friends have written about it, which is natural, since this is an iconic gay male novel, born out of an era in which writing of this blunt honesty was nearly impossible. This is the kind of book that Grove Press was known for, edgy and hard. It is also the kind of book that people speak of as hard, edgy, frank, which means that the writer treats sex in a particular way; at least I find that to be true most of the time. There are not a lot of parallels to this book; it is reminiscent of other writers who deal directly with erotic matter, but it is born out of one man's hard-won experience. The ideas about gay sex that Rechy wrote about fell out of fashion in the aftermath of HIV; he was an advocate for hustler sex, anonymous sex, public sex; the world he writes about is that night-driven world that gay people occupied in that same era. It is a hard era for people to comprehend and is easy to dismiss as a time when men were closeted and full of self hatred. The fact that the closets and the self hatred were the natural outgrowth of trying to find intimacy in the shadows and corners of the world is harder to see. Rechy does not write about those ideas. He simply presents the world of the hustler, the world of the drag queen, the scenes of gay bars in New Orleans, with the sensibility of a natural inhabit of all these milieus. He does so with force and brilliance and a good strong dose of messiness. The writing is extravagant, self-involved, and true. It's almost pointless to call this book a classic; it is a singular novel that only got itself born because of the force of the writer and his unswerving vision. He wrote many other novels, most of them not successful; but a few of them are essential - Numbers and The Sexual Outlaw come immediately to mind. Much as I love this book, I have never been able to face rereading it. I suppose I don't want to spoil my first impression of it, when everything Rechy had to say was vital to my understanding of myself.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    What a massive, sprawling, and exhausting (in the best possible way) novel. This is one of those which will pick you up, spin you around, chew you up and spit you back out. I'm unsure how in my collection of gay literature canon I somehow glossed over this novel until now. I'm glad that in this year's endeavor to "re-read my mothers" of gay literature a friend made me pick it up. City of Night follows an unnamed hustler as he bounces through the queer underworlds of America's so-called "cities of What a massive, sprawling, and exhausting (in the best possible way) novel. This is one of those which will pick you up, spin you around, chew you up and spit you back out. I'm unsure how in my collection of gay literature canon I somehow glossed over this novel until now. I'm glad that in this year's endeavor to "re-read my mothers" of gay literature a friend made me pick it up. City of Night follows an unnamed hustler as he bounces through the queer underworlds of America's so-called "cities of night": New York, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans. Written in a Beatnik-esque stream-of-conciousness that at first feels a bit like affectation, the distinctive voice develops into an accurate syntactical depiction of our restless narrator, who is always searching, searching, searching for the indefinable something, called sometimes love, sometimes desire, sometimes validation of existence. While the places he speaks of so intimately may have aged away (I believe a good among of the account was drawn from Rechy's own youth), the scenes he describes and the palpable emotion never will.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Marcus

    Bits of this book are certainly 4-star, a few chapters may even merit 5, but the overall journey through the nocturnal world of 1960s America's gay hustling scene, over almost 400 pages of small print, was just a little too arduous for my liking. The largely passive narrator acts as a device for hearing out the stories of various characters from this furtive sexual underworld, a few of which are incredibly poignant; but there are longueurs too across the many months and miles, and any resolution Bits of this book are certainly 4-star, a few chapters may even merit 5, but the overall journey through the nocturnal world of 1960s America's gay hustling scene, over almost 400 pages of small print, was just a little too arduous for my liking. The largely passive narrator acts as a device for hearing out the stories of various characters from this furtive sexual underworld, a few of which are incredibly poignant; but there are longueurs too across the many months and miles, and any resolution of the central character's emotional gridlock caused by craving and fearing love in equal measures is only hinted at by the end.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Before there was "Midnight Cowboy" this classic came along about male prostitution that never sinks into sleaze. Forty five years ago John Rechy wrote about homosexuality with a compassion that America didn't have for gays. "City of Night" runs for almost 400 pages but you'll never get bored because it's so well written. Before there was "Midnight Cowboy" this classic came along about male prostitution that never sinks into sleaze. Forty five years ago John Rechy wrote about homosexuality with a compassion that America didn't have for gays. "City of Night" runs for almost 400 pages but you'll never get bored because it's so well written.

  18. 5 out of 5

    K.M. Soehnlein

    A book that feels both of its time and very much ahead of its time.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Skip

    Whew...This was quite a read. It was a little hard to get into, but by at least midway, I was sucked into all the dive bars with drag queens, hustlers, "scores", pushers, and the whole underworld of people posing as something else. It's a tale immense loneliness, and you want this guy to find his way out, and find himself, and maybe some happiness. But some people — many people — just never do. Also, a great period piece. If this was written in the early 1960s, and became a best-seller, it must Whew...This was quite a read. It was a little hard to get into, but by at least midway, I was sucked into all the dive bars with drag queens, hustlers, "scores", pushers, and the whole underworld of people posing as something else. It's a tale immense loneliness, and you want this guy to find his way out, and find himself, and maybe some happiness. But some people — many people — just never do. Also, a great period piece. If this was written in the early 1960s, and became a best-seller, it must have really been an eye-opener for a lot of gay guys looking for some sort of connection.

  20. 4 out of 5

    I. Merey

    I actually finished this book months ago, but I never rated it because I wanted to write a comprehensive review and now it was so long ago that all i can say: 1. It was amazing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Seth

    In the late 1950s, John Rechy returned to his hometown of El Paso, TX, after several years spent criss-crossing the US. Shortly after arriving, he recounted his experiences in a manic letter to a friend. The letter was never sent; instead, it became the staring point for City of Night. Reading the novel now, it's difficult to imagine the scandal it caused upon publication. The unnamed narrator survives by hustling other men - although the sex scenes are so non-explicit, it's not always clear what In the late 1950s, John Rechy returned to his hometown of El Paso, TX, after several years spent criss-crossing the US. Shortly after arriving, he recounted his experiences in a manic letter to a friend. The letter was never sent; instead, it became the staring point for City of Night. Reading the novel now, it's difficult to imagine the scandal it caused upon publication. The unnamed narrator survives by hustling other men - although the sex scenes are so non-explicit, it's not always clear what's going on. (Generally, the guys seem to be sucking his dick, at $10 a pop. Not bad bank for the 1950s, I guess.) Needless to say, the narrator meets some colorful characters during his travels, from closet cases and drag queens to fortune tellers and S/M enthusiasts. As other reviewers point out, the novel has a sort of documentary quality, showing us the sexual underground of the 1950s and name-checking prominent gay (Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter) and camp (Tallaluh Bankhead, Bette Davis) figures of the time. The book certainly has some memorable scenes - particularly the night the narrator spends with another hustler named Pete. (view spoiler)[(They clearly want each other but are so afraid of admitting their queerness they ultimately do nothing more than hold hands.) (hide spoiler)] I can also see the influence the book's had on other texts, from The Basketball Diaries to The Rules of Attraction to Slouching Toward Bethlehem. (The opening paragraph of part 2 could easily have been written by Joan Didion herself.) Having said all of that, I have to admit the novel falls a little flat. First, because of the narrator's long-winded self-analyses (his mother loved him too much, his father didn't love him enough, etc.) Second, because of Rechy's decision to ditch the manic energy of his original letter and to write a series of detailed vignettes instead, some of which go on and on... Capturing characters' voices is a challenge for any writer. City of Night has some well-done moments in this regard; see, especially, the long list of stories told about Miss Destiny (she died, she's in prison, she got married, she went straight...), a drag queen who suddenly disappears from the scene. But on the whole I found the book kind of exhausting, and while I'm glad I finally read it, I doubt I'll want to read it again.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Like many future English majors/wannabe-writers, I was obsessed with postmodern lit between the ages of 17 and 21 – most especially anything associated with the Beat Generation. And while John Rechy’s landmark debut, City of Night, shares many similarities with the Beats that popularized their iconic movement (and the novels that defined it), it managed to fly under my radar. How? Better still, why? I only hope the various lit electives I took as a budding creative writer have since revised thei Like many future English majors/wannabe-writers, I was obsessed with postmodern lit between the ages of 17 and 21 – most especially anything associated with the Beat Generation. And while John Rechy’s landmark debut, City of Night, shares many similarities with the Beats that popularized their iconic movement (and the novels that defined it), it managed to fly under my radar. How? Better still, why? I only hope the various lit electives I took as a budding creative writer have since revised their syllabi to include Rechy’s debut. I’d be saddened if it weren’t being taught or least talked about, yet hopeful the generation below me were to learn of it sooner than myself. That said I also wonder if I would’ve deemed City of Night the “greatest book ever” had I read it in college. After all, it checks every box that 1998-me aimed to check: quests for spiritual liberation; narratives celebrating un-apologetic hedonism; gorgeous, explosive, free-flowing prose that entrances as much as it meanders. Truth be told, reading City of Night at 41 had me feeling nostalgic not for the time which it documents, but for the one which I devoured any and everything like it. Rechy paints an urban landscape made up of misfits and addicts, prostitutes and drag queens, that’s rich and vivid and altogether otherworldly. We follow a “youngman” huster from his El Paso roots to both coasts and seemingly everywhere in between, where he all but literally walks on the wild side. He becomes rapt within the gay nightlife, wherein he both connects with several fellow homosexual men, and also prostitutes himself to them in order to make ends meet. Comparisons will be made to Kerouac’s seminal On the Road, and rightfully so. Both works document young dreamers venturing their way across the country, the eclectic souls they encounter (physically and spiritually). Yet where On the Road takes an abstract if not surreal approach, City of Night is more streamlined, more focused. That’s not to say Rechy’s prose does not have a flair for the dramatic, as demonstrated in several glorious passages that almost read like poetry. Yet the author always manages to reel things in, not let things get too awry – quite a feat given the chaotic subject matter. It’s this subject matter that’s likely why City of Night had all but passed me by. It puts the novel in a difficult class; several classes, in fact: road journal; queer fiction; Beat narrative; urban fantasy. Most of all, City of Night is the work of a pioneering voice, one so resounding it paved the way for not one but several genres. I only hope it continues to get its due; I’m thankful to say it finally has mine.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Allan

    I picked up the 50th anniversary copy of this novel in The Strand in NYC based on its blurb, it somehow having passed under my radar in the past. Telling the story of a male hustler in pre Stonewall USA, the book was a Bestseller on release, despite coming in for criticism from many reviewers at the time. As the main character moves from El Paso to NYC, before taking in cities like LA, Dallas, Chicago and SF, we read stories about the 'dive bars', 'scores', 'queens' and 'hustlers' he encounters, I picked up the 50th anniversary copy of this novel in The Strand in NYC based on its blurb, it somehow having passed under my radar in the past. Telling the story of a male hustler in pre Stonewall USA, the book was a Bestseller on release, despite coming in for criticism from many reviewers at the time. As the main character moves from El Paso to NYC, before taking in cities like LA, Dallas, Chicago and SF, we read stories about the 'dive bars', 'scores', 'queens' and 'hustlers' he encounters, some of these which are easier to follow than others. Things culminate for him at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, with a moment of clarity arriving in the midst of the debauchery alluded to. I can't say that I particularly enjoyed this book, but I was interested in the makeup of the world it portrayed from a social history point of view. While I didn't identify with any of the characters, I've no doubt that in the unenlightened times when the book was written, many people had to live in the cloak and dagger fashion recorded, and were irrevocably damaged as a result. I'm just thankful that the world has moved on in the way it has, and while no doubt the darker elements of the novel still probably exist, they're not the only option. All in all, not a particularly easy read, but an interesting one if you're into seeing the changes in both LGBT lifestyles and indeed LGBT fiction since the 1960s.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bill Wallace

    At its best when it is nightmarish, John Rechy's classic account of hustling in the occluded world of homosexuality in mid-century America makes a compelling case that sexual identity is a spectrum rather than points on a plane. There are also at least two books here -- one an almost journalistic account of life in the bars and on the streets and another, much less satisfying overlay of drama and unconvincing introspection. Rechy's prose works well when it's sparse but all too often it veers int At its best when it is nightmarish, John Rechy's classic account of hustling in the occluded world of homosexuality in mid-century America makes a compelling case that sexual identity is a spectrum rather than points on a plane. There are also at least two books here -- one an almost journalistic account of life in the bars and on the streets and another, much less satisfying overlay of drama and unconvincing introspection. Rechy's prose works well when it's sparse but all too often it veers into the purple, as contemporary critics so unkindly noted. Still, the world portrayed here -- and read about by people who would never have dreamed it existed -- creates characters and situations that fuel stacks of later novels and hours of film. I read the book because of my endless fascination with outsider culture, especially in ages of great conformity. Two chapters at the end of the third book, one about the man who initiates our narrator into the world of S&M and one about a "talent contest" at a bar in Chicago, are among the best horror stories I've read lately. The Mardi Gras scenes are also genuinely Boschian and more than repaid the effort of getting through some of the talkier chapters.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Pollock

    I read this book because it was recommended (posthumously, in a long-ago interview) by David Bowie. I have such complicated feelings about it, but i ultimately rated it four stars because even though it depressed the shit out of me by the time i finally made it to the end, i also found so much of it to be familiar in terms of the speech and behavior of the people in it. It's a thinly-veiled roman a clef about the author's life as a rough-trade hustler in the gay scenes of several major US cities I read this book because it was recommended (posthumously, in a long-ago interview) by David Bowie. I have such complicated feelings about it, but i ultimately rated it four stars because even though it depressed the shit out of me by the time i finally made it to the end, i also found so much of it to be familiar in terms of the speech and behavior of the people in it. It's a thinly-veiled roman a clef about the author's life as a rough-trade hustler in the gay scenes of several major US cities in the 1950s, and for something which is now over 50 years old, it still felt really familiar, like these could be people i knew at a gay bar in the 1990s or even 2000s. But it's also so so so so fucking depressing, the way in which everyone in the book pretty much is a walking wounded tragedy, trying to exist in a culture that hates and demonizes them just for their sexuality and/or gender expression.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Epic and meticulous lightly fictionalized study of gay night life and the hustler lifestyle in the 50s and 60s -- big cast of memorable characters, gorgeous and unsettling writing, concretely structured (in interesting tension with the sprawl of so many scenes), hardened yet tender protag. Took me forever to read but I loved dipping into this world a little bit at a time. Tons of transmisogyny -- this novel is really a study in that too, in the ways in which it documents (somewhat anthropologica Epic and meticulous lightly fictionalized study of gay night life and the hustler lifestyle in the 50s and 60s -- big cast of memorable characters, gorgeous and unsettling writing, concretely structured (in interesting tension with the sprawl of so many scenes), hardened yet tender protag. Took me forever to read but I loved dipping into this world a little bit at a time. Tons of transmisogyny -- this novel is really a study in that too, in the ways in which it documents (somewhat anthropologically) gay/drag/trans tensions and femmephobia within the gay community. These in-community aggressions are not as carefully criticized as they are in, say, Giovanni's Room (published 7 years earlier), though the narrator is more observant and curious, and much less judgmental than David in G's Room.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Simon Hollway

    Set before my time but I was blown away by the language, the ghetto pattois, the polari, call it what you will. That cool, hip and wantonly slick and sleek flow of words, I had never encountered before. What a loss! Much of the vernacular did fill in some missing blanks and made me understand many terms still floating about on the modern scene. Wow! Such beautiful, evocative dialogue. Never fear though. That slacker mentality is thankfully back in its mischievously muted manner - 'It gave me the Set before my time but I was blown away by the language, the ghetto pattois, the polari, call it what you will. That cool, hip and wantonly slick and sleek flow of words, I had never encountered before. What a loss! Much of the vernacular did fill in some missing blanks and made me understand many terms still floating about on the modern scene. Wow! Such beautiful, evocative dialogue. Never fear though. That slacker mentality is thankfully back in its mischievously muted manner - 'It gave me the feels' being one of my current favourites. City of Night should be enshrined in a time capsule and revisited every 20 years by successive generations.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Hackett

    I wanted to like this more than I actually did. Rechy does a beautiful - and I mean stunningly beautiful - job painting a vivid picture of the cities and the gay underground culture of the 1960's that the protagonist inhabited. But beyond that I found there to be so much psychobabble and pretension that the book was at times completely insufferable. I'm glad I read it since it's a gay classic, but would not read again. I wanted to like this more than I actually did. Rechy does a beautiful - and I mean stunningly beautiful - job painting a vivid picture of the cities and the gay underground culture of the 1960's that the protagonist inhabited. But beyond that I found there to be so much psychobabble and pretension that the book was at times completely insufferable. I'm glad I read it since it's a gay classic, but would not read again.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Caty

    Gritty amazing. Worthy of its classic status. Can't BELIEVE he was able to serialize and publish it in*1963*! Also some insights about sex work that are universal, not just limited to the gay market, that shouldn't be missed, though not as great in this area as _The Sexual Outlaw_. But critics are correct when they say this is the best of Rechy's work. Gritty amazing. Worthy of its classic status. Can't BELIEVE he was able to serialize and publish it in*1963*! Also some insights about sex work that are universal, not just limited to the gay market, that shouldn't be missed, though not as great in this area as _The Sexual Outlaw_. But critics are correct when they say this is the best of Rechy's work.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Clark

    I read this book and it's extremely overrated, drags on for way too long and should have been edited more, and Rechy's narcissism and snobbery shows through the fiction. There are better Rechy books out there such as Numbers. This book is not one of his best, and unfortunately people fluff it as though it is his best, and most people do not read any of his other novels. I read this book and it's extremely overrated, drags on for way too long and should have been edited more, and Rechy's narcissism and snobbery shows through the fiction. There are better Rechy books out there such as Numbers. This book is not one of his best, and unfortunately people fluff it as though it is his best, and most people do not read any of his other novels.

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