“City of Night”–looking for love

Rechy, John. “City of Night”, Grove Press Reprint, 1994

Looking for Love

Amos Lassen

John Rechy’s “City of Night” is one of the classics of gay literature and I am amazed that reading it again now I find that it still mesmerizes as it did when I read it the first time in 1963 (I really am an old person it seems). When it was first published in ’63 it was a national best seller and it caused uproar as well as ushered in a new age of gay literature. Rechy’s account of the big city and its underworld of male prostitution sent waves through society. His unflinching view of “Youngman” (as his main character is called) and the world of hustling and drag queens and all kinds of men were shocking and honest. Our narrator traverses the United States and gives us an unforgettable picture of gay life. Written in the slang of the period, it is an authentic look at the world of twilight men with extreme clarity and realism minus self-pity and sentimentality. Rechy passionately tells the truth and in doing so liberated many who had up until this point lived in the shadows of a larger society.

When I first read this book I had to hide it for I was afraid that someone might discover y secret. By the time I finished it, I did not much care who knew about me—I felt liberated. Rechy’s story of the world was one that I had always hoped existed but I was not man enough to go and look for it. By chance, I sat back yesterday and reread the book. For the second time, I could not stop reading and when I closed the covers I could not help think about how far we have come. I am sure that whoever read “City of Night” in the year of and the years after its publication finally felt that he had something to identify with. The novel has lost none of its power some thirty-four years after it was written. Rechy shows his love for his language in his writing and he wastes no words in telling his story. Even with the many metaphors ad poetic style, Rechy manages to clearly and honesty portray what gay life was like back “in the day”.

I felt like I had been hit by a train as I read. I felt as if I was living the situations I was reading about and it fascinated me. Rechy shows great generosity for the human race as he tries to understand and then explain to the reader about those men that were (and still are in many cases) on the fringe of society—sexual minorities, hustlers, bums, drunks, drag queens, junkies. He gives an unforgettable portrait of the “love that dare not speak its name”.

The vividness of gay life that Rechy paints was new to many people in the 60’s and I was walking next to the author as he took me on a tour of it. “City of Night” is something more than just a gay novel; it is a look at a world within a world.

The main character is an embodiment of an everyman. He sees all, does everything and learns nothing from it, His behavior is arbitrary; he has no motivation ad he makes nothing happen—everything, instead, happens to him. His subculture is one of oppression ad internalized homophobia (didn’t we once hate ourselves and lurk in the shadows of the night?).Rechy opened societal eyes and as much as we have changed, we really see that we haven’t really changed that much. I know this sounds contradictory but this is the only way I can put this. On one hand, things appear better, on the other, things have not really changed that much. We, gay men, are still confused and still suffer from mental turmoil. Many of us are out but many still hide. We need to open our eyes and realize that if we really want change, we must become more aware of whom we are and accept that. We must never forget that we are human and we are important and we all want to be loved.

Rechy’s story is sad but beautiful. Some of us still hate ourselves for being gay like “youngman”. Many of us, like him, still live on the fringe of society and we all have one thing in common—the desire to be loved.


  1. #1 by mykola (mick) dementiuk on February 26, 2011 - 2:57 pm

    Since the 60s I’ve read the book at least five or six times and every time I read it it becomes new and explosive as it was in the 60s. A great book, one of our classics but one that is little read nowadays. Modern readers just don’t know it, so sad.

  2. #2 by amosllassen on February 26, 2011 - 3:02 pm

    Maybe after reading my review and your comment, they will discover it.

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