37. City of Night, John Rechy (1963)

City of Night had a massive impact on me when I first read it in my late teens, and despite the fact that I can now see certain ‘flaws’ (I hesitate to use that word of a classic novel), I still think it deserves much greater recognition as a classic of American literature. City of Night is the definitive pre-Stonewall gay novel, chronicling the lives of hustlers, drag queens and punters in various US cities, and at its best, when the characters speak for themselves, it’s one of the most vivid and thrilling books about urban life I’ve ever read. The linking sections, in which the ‘youngman’ narrator gives way to introspection, are less successful, and you’re always waiting for the party to begin again. And what a party it is, populated by unforgettable characters like Darling Dolly Dane, Chi-Chi and above all Miss Destiny, the hyperarticulate queen whose romantic fantasies form the most powerful part of the story. I have always maintained that if City of Night wasn’t about queers it would be as revered as Catcher in the Rye or On the Road. As it is, it’s shamefully marginalised by critics and retailers, and its publishing history is patchy to say the least. John Rechy is still alive and well and living in Hollywood; I interviewed him a few years ago, and you can read it here if you so wish.

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1 Comment

Filed under My top 100 novels

One response to “37. City of Night, John Rechy (1963)

  1. One of my favourite devices in fiction is when the author introduces a new language, such as when a book set in India leaves some words untranslated, it gives you more of a sense of being there. Rechy does this with “youngman” and “sexmoney” and the lack of punctuation, and I enjoyed every page. Interestingly, I recently recommended a Maeve Binchy book to a friend after her passing, and she said she disliked the constant use of Irish phrases, something that I found the most endearing aspect of the book. Perhaps her opinion is more prevalent than mine, that might also be holding this book back.

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