City of Night – John Rechy (1963)

City of Night is a novel written by John Rechy. It was originally published in 1963 in New York by Grove Press. Earlier excerpts had appeared in Evergreen Review, Big Table, Nugget, and The London Magazine. City of Night is notable for its exposé approach to and stark depiction of hustling, as well as its stream of consciousness narrative style. Set in the 1960s, the book follows the travels of a young man (Rechy uses the term ‘youngman’ when referring to hustlers) across the country while working as a hustler. The book focuses chapters on locations that the boy visits and certain personages he meets there, from New York City, to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New Orleans. Throughout the novel, the unnamed narrator has trysts with various peculiar characters, including another hustler, an older man, an S&M enthusiast and a bed-ridden old man. All of these relationships range in the extent of their emotional and sexual nature, as well as in their peculiarity. The narrator shares many characteristics, including his ethnicity and relative age, with the author at the time. The author uses curious methods to achieve verisimilitude, for instance, omitting the apostrophe in contractions, in order to recreate the speech of characters who are barely literate. Pornographer David Hurles wrote that ‘Rechy’s story set me free… His story told me of a world I had only hoped might really exist. The effect was visceral, sexy, fightening, and it made my spirit soar. In 1965 this book helped lure me to California.’ The book has been noted as an influence by The Doors. A curious object of note is the reference to City of Night in the song ‘L.A. Woman‘. The Los Angeles-based portion of the book relies heavily on characters who are drag queens and transgender, which would seem to leave the object of the song as sexually ambiguous. … Toby Ross in his film ‘Paper Dreams’ makes a clear mention of the book and the influence it had on his career and thousands of young men who used this book as an inspiration for migrating to the big cities and imitation the protagonist’s life style. …”
Grove Atlantic: City of Night – Excerpt
LARB: Fifty Years of Rechy’s “City of Night”
NY Times: A First Gay Novel, a Poor Latino Boyhood and the Confluence

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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