A small-town lad’s awakening, sexual and intellectual—which takes him to big-city demimondes and books that begged, in their day, to be banned.
An autobiographical memoir? Rechy may be thinking of Kenneth Rexroth’s “autobiographical novel,” or perhaps recent memoirs that turn out to be fictions and fictions that turn out to be memoirs. (Before the story begins, the author notes, “This is not what happened; it is what is remembered. Its sequence is the sequence of recollection.”) Of mixed Scottish and Mexican descent, Rechy grew up in 1940s Texas, where the ethnic combination would mean segregation. But he was always taken for white, which got him in the good high school and even landed him a steamy encounter with his journalism teacher. Rechy’s good fortunes would not be met by his more obviously Hispanic kin: “Although other families in El Paso had struggled out of extreme poverty to moderate poverty during the war,” he writes, “ours seemed entrenched.” With few prospects and another war to fight, Rechy found himself in the army, where, improbably, he met among his fellow soldiers writers, directors, producers and publishers who encouraged his writing and, in some instances, his newly discovered homosexuality and the soul-searching it occasioned (“I’m not queer, man, I’m straight”). A soft job as an aide to a colonel anxiously awaiting advancement—“My main function was to report to him weekly, from an issued list, how many other high colonels were ahead of him to be promoted to generals”—took Rechy to Europe, where he acquired a touch more sophistication. A return to civilian life took him home, where, in the government housing where his mother lived, he wrote City of Night, a hallmark of beat-era and gay literature.
Keenly observed and well-written—readers will hope that a sequel is forthcoming.