Novelist Rechy, still best known for his 1963 debut, City of Night, returns with a steamy tale that, had it appeared then, might well have been banned.
Rechy’s 2008 book, About My Life and the Kept Woman, was subtitled “An Autobiographical Memoir,” which seems rather oddly redundant. His latest is subtitled “A True Fiction,” by which we might assume that the facts are more or less factual while some of the names have been changed to protect the—well, the anything but innocent. The narrator, a young man who just happens to be named John Rechy, is summoned to the coast for an island retreat with a wealthy patron who has read and admired Rechy’s work. “When I read your stories,” says the mysteriously wealthy Paul, “I felt—I know what it’s like to live by one’s wits. That’s how I’ve lived my life, my adult life.” Throw the emphasis on “adult,” and wits hardly enter into the picture, though con games, spectacles of domination, and violations of various laws of the day certainly figure prominently; though decidedly literary, there are plenty of moments where Rechy’s recountings turn from PG into hard X, with rompings and barkings that wouldn’t be out of place in a Frank Harris fan’s hidden-from-the-kids bookshelf. Paul is infinitely curious and demanding as well as being a touch more perceptive about some things than the less worldly John Rechy: when discussing the ways and wherefores of the male hustler, for instance, he intones that the real business at hand is power: “Power, of course, man, sexual power. You wanted power over willing victims.” The sensitive reader will note that power is the currency here, but just how willing some of the victims are is a topic for discussion, at least in the spaces between every possible variation on human coupling.
Grown-up stuff, with a kind of Gatsby-by-way-of–Henry James subplot. Beautifully written but surely not for the faint of heart.