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I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019 and I am now properly retired and trying to write a novel. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 13 August 2020

"City of Night" by John Rechy

 Written in 1963 and with a distinct flavour of Kerouac's On the Road, this novel follows a young gay hustler as he moves from New York to Los Angeles to Hollywood to San Francisco to Chicago and to New Orleans. It describes the underworld of studhustlers and youngmen and scores and queens and vice cops in a time when a transvestite could be arrested for 'masquerading'. It describes the different demands of the clients (for a book centred on gay sex for sale it is, due to the date of publication, cleverly coy about exactly what it describes). There are remarkable and colourful characters that flit through this book but the focus is always on the narrator, a youngman who is compelled to discover the world with as many different people as possible. 

In common with the literature of the time, Rechy is experimental in his language. Often he runs words together into one, as illustrated above, and, for example, when he describes roles played by hustlers in New York: "There are a variety of roles to play if you're hustling: youngmanoutofajob butlooking; dontgiveadamnyoungman drifting; perrenialhustler easytomakeout; youngmanlostinthebigcity pleasehelpmesir." (Part I: p 26) This and the sometimes breathless quality of his prose, as well as the subject matter, is what gives an impression of the works of Kerouac, or, for example, The Book of Cain by Alexander Trocchi.

He can produce spot-on descriptions:
  • "The needlepointed dust." (Part I: p 4)
  • "Phallic palm-trees with sunbleached pubic hair." (Part II: p 79)
  • "In the eery mottled light of a distant lamp, a shadow lies on his stomach on the grasspatched ground, another straddles him: ignoring the danger of detection in the last moments of exiled excitement ..." (Part I; p 50)
  • "Along the panel of amber mirrors at Harry's bar, a panorama of searching eyes emerges out of the orangy twilight of cigarette smoke and dimlights: a stew of faces floating murkily in the smoky darkness." (Part II; Skipper-1; p 138)

He is also able to meet someone and understand their inner core. This is his real strength: the perception of character. Many of the 'chapters' of this work are in-depth analyses of some of the memorable characters: scores, dragqueens and studhustlers, he has encountered:
  • "There is a consuming franticness about Skipper which seizes you the moment he begins to talk - the words coming often in gasps - his eyes burning - at times as if about to explode with intensity, at times on the brink of closing, giving up. Constantly, he flexes his body, looking down at it, studying it, as if to make sure it is still intact." (Part II; Skipper-1; p 144)
  • "When two homosexuals who have no Sexual interest in each other talk in a bar, they seldom look at each other - their eyes scan the bar for a new Available anyone." (Part III; Lance-1; p173)
  • "They are the astonished eyes of someone who after years of wearing sunglasses is forced suddenly to remove them in the savage stare of the sun." (Part III; Lance-4; p189)

And there are many other wonderful moments:

  • "Later I would think of America as one vast City of Night ... jukebox-winking,rock-n-roll-moaning America at night fusing its dark cities into the unmistakable shape of loneliness." (Part I; p 3)
  • "Even Milton, the poet, in his epic poem, was on the side of the rebellious angels." (Part I: The Professor-3: p 68)
  • "A franticness to get what the world had offered others and not extended readily to them." (Part I: The Professor-3: p 68)
  • "As long as the hustler goes only with queens - and with other men only for scoring ... - he is not himself considered 'queer' - he remains, in the vocabulary of the world, 'trade'." (Part II; Miss Destiny,-1; p 88)
  • "Shakespeare, my dears - a very Great writer who wrote ladies' parts for dragqueens in his time." (Part II; Miss Destiny,-1; p 88)
  • "I figure: So I make a few bucks working, I blow them - jes like that"! Shoot, I get along jes as good without. Why hassle moren you got to?" (Part II; Chuck-1; p 116)
  • "The best way to get there ... is to take it slow." (Part II; Chuck-1; p 117)
  • "Once, man, we got so fuckin drunk ... we jes started throwing rocks at the sky" ... jes like, you know, to make sure it's there ... But those rocks, man, they jes kept comin right back at us." (Part II; Chuck-2; p 125)
  • "Like - yeah - like you got Heaven roped by the neck." (Part II; Chuck-3; p 129)
  • "For the homeless drifters there is also the panic that one day youll wake up to the fact that youre through on the streets, in the bars - that everyone has had you, that those who havent have lost interest - that youve been replaced by the fresher faces that come daily into the city in that shifting wave of vagrants - younger than yo u now (and Youth is at a premium)" (Part II; p 137)
  • "People come to Harry's primarily for one of two purposes: to buy or be bought." (Part II; Skipper-1; p 140)
  • "Life, perversely, may make one a caricature of oneself, a wandering persistent ghost of the youngman that was, once." (Part II; Skipper-1; p 144)
  • "That stud walks more miles in a day than I do all mammy-screwin week long ... but he always ends up where he started from." (Part II; Skipper-1; p 145)
  • "The disdain of those who know that beauty rules anarchy." (Part III; Lance-1; p172)
  • "For the chorus to claim its victory, the God must admit his fall." (Part III; Lance-1; p174)
  • "At the Ranch Market on Vine Street, a cockeyed clock winds it hands swiftly backwards. Longingly I stand before it." (Part III; p 202)
  • "I told myself it's wrong to fight yourself when so much is fighting you already." (Part III; Someone-2; p 214)
  • "New Orleans is now the Pied Piper playing a multikeyed tune to varikeyed ears." (Part IV; p 270)
  • "When Ah first met him, he was re-al masculine ... He turns swish ovuhnight ... swishin like a ballerina. When Ah met him, he was hustlin the Quartuh too - the butchest, straighest numbuh y'evuh laid yuh eyes on." (Part IV; p 273)
  • "The ice age of the heart." (Part IV; p 326)
  • "I want to tell you something before we leave. Im not at all the way you think I am. Im not like you want me to be, the way I tried to look and act for you: not unconcerned, nor easygoing - not tough: no, not at all. ... Like you, like everyone else, Im Scared, cold, cold, terrified." (Part IV; p 326)

Unconventional but wonderfully descriptive; you feel you know the world of the desperate youngmen for the inside.

August 2020; 363 pages

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