I read Rechy’s ‘City of Night’ sort of by accident when I was sixteen (It was on the same library shelf as Anne Rice.) So, Rice’s sadomasochistic fantasies, Anais Nin’s erotica (not on the same shelf, but read around the same time) and this all got intertwined in my head. Rechy was by far the most shockingly eye-opening; the most gritty – but at the same time, his writing shares a certain overwrought drama with the other two.
I never really followed his writing after that – tried to get a hold of his memoir that came out a few years ago; but never got my hands on a copy. When I was offered a review copy of this book, I accepted it eagerly.
Reading this, I had to wonder how factual the memoir is. The main character here is a young man called, coincidentally, John Rechy, and there are plenty of metafictional musings about the nature of identity and the ‘truth’ of narratives. This, however, is definitely not a memoir. I cannot say how closely the character matches the author, or if any parallel incidents occurred in his life, but the structure here is that of a novel.
It’s much less sexually explicit than I expected. I recall ‘City of Night’ as being blatantly pornographic, but this is almost understated – sizzling and brooding with tension; putting the reader on constant edge about what *might* happen.
John Rechy (the character) is a promising young writer known for his treatment of edgy subjects (the gay underground scene, of course) who is invited by an unknown man to visit his private island. We expect a sexual assignation; but the man actually seems to possibly be interested in his writing, perhaps in acting as a kind of patron. Also on the island are the man’s beautiful mistress, his teenage son, and two odd and silent household staff. And overlaying all of it is a mass of secrets. Soon, the man’s ex-wife may be coming for a visit – and then certain things may be revealed.
I think the book, although published in 2017, has a decidedly 60’s-70’s vibe to not just the setting, but the writing. It’s an interpersonal drama about a troubled family relationship, into which a disinterested party is dragged… but the whole thing teeters right on the verge of crossing over into horror, the way the tension is maintained and developed.
I really liked it.
Many thanks to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are unaffected by the source of the book.