City Of Night
by John Rechy
Grove Press, $5.95
This is the worst confection yet devised by the masterminds behind the Grove epater-la-post-office Machine. So fabricated is it that, despite the adorable photograph on the rear of the dust jacket, I can hardly believe there is a real John Rechy—and if there is, he would probably be the first to agree that there isn’t—for City of Night reads like the unTrue Confessions of a Male Whore as told to Jean Genet, Djuna Barnes, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Thomas Wolfe, Fanny Hurst and Dr. Franzblau. It is pastiche from the word go. Here are three quotes that come to you through the courtesy of Page One alone:
Later I would think of America as one vast City of Night stretching gaudily from Times Square to Hollywood Boulevard—jukebox-winking, rock-n-roll moaning: America at night fusing its dark cities into the unmistakable shape of loneliness.
One night sex and cigarette smoke and rooms squashed in by loneliness…
And I would remember lives lived out darkly in that vast City of Night, from all-night movies to Beverly Hills mansions.
Actually, City of Night is two books of short stories, sneaking their way through each other to give the volume the appearance of a novel, partly, I would guess, because novels are more negotiable than short stories and partly, I am sure, because the amorality of the characters in what I will call Book One helps disguise the eminently respectable morality of the hero-narrator in Book Two. The episodes that comprise Book One are concerned with those lives lived out darkly in what is nowadays called The Homosexual Underground, though never before has it been so much on the surface. We are taken on a guided tour of gay bars and beaches, turkish baths, parks, S & M scenes (Sado-Masochism) for those of you who aren’t aficionados), queer parties and movie houses, faggot social life and street life, and so on. The works. It is a blow by blow account, so to speak, of where to go for what you want (assuming of course that you want it)—a kind of “Sodom on Five Dollars a Day.” Throughout most of these episodes, the nameless hero of the novel plays no part except as observer or listener; his passport into this world that never, finally, makes him is the fact that he’s a hustler and lets himself be had for money. (I regret telling you that the full extent or the exact nature of his being had is something he and Rechy are quite silent about.) These stories do not bring anything new to literature, homosexual, sociological or American. They’re mostly about the same old queens doing the same old things: swishing and bitching and cruising and falling in love and leaving each other and getting desperate and growing old and worrying over it. And there’s no general reason why it shouldn’t be pleasant to read about them once again. But Rechy’s stories are awful, and they …