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City of Night

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  3,523 ratings  ·  230 reviews
When John Rechy's explosive first novel, City of Night, was first published in 1963, it became a national bestseller and ushered in a new era of gay fiction. Bold and inventive in his account of the urban underworld of male prostitution, Rechy is equally unflinching in his portrayal of one hustling "Youngman" and his restless search for self-knowledge. As the narrator care ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published January 13th 1994 by Grove Press (first published 1963)
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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Michael
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, recs
Expansive and electric, City of Night brings to life a young unnamed hustler’s coming of age. The autobiographical story follows the Texas-born protagonist as he treks across the country, from his hometown of El Paso to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New Orleans, meeting an eclectic bunch of outcasts, drag queens, and fellow sex workers along the way. The novel’s anthropological in its documentation of gay and trans social life; its chapters alternate between vivid portraits of cities ...more
Richard
Nov 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just saw in the NYTimes that Grove is putting out the 50th anniversary edition - my heart stopped for just a second, and even as I'm writing this my stomach has that forbidden fruit feeling of something thrilling and frightening this way coming. (It's the same feeling I got well into my adult years when driving into NYC - an-tici-pation.)

In 1963 I was a 17 years old and a totally alienated wanna-be hipster/beatnik reaching out for anything dark and maybe beautiful. I saw the American dream as
...more
Travis Foster
May 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure exactly what I expected from this novel, but it wasn't that it would break my heart so very many times over. Wow. I get why James Baldwin was such a fan.
J
Jul 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Truly gripping and evocative. The ending was so incredibly touching. The book is filled with moments that perfectly capture the alienated gay culture of the 60s in an at times shocking way. In addition to the sullen and often mellow persona of John's personality, there are also moments punctuated here where drag queens just bring it ON. Colorful personalities bloom everywhere around him. This book is made of awesome and the prose is nothing less than gorgeous. A lot of this reminded me of Jack K ...more
Raymond
Feb 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
City of Night, as I remember it, is a powerful, dead on depiction of the gay underworld of the late 50's, early sixties. For a young gay man, and occasional trick turner, it was a book that spoke to my experience in a world that did not want me to be.

There is a particular scene in the book that stays with me still. During a Mardi Gras celebration, the protagonist (we never know his name) leaps on to a float carrying a beautiful young drag queen (Kathy, and her hustler lover (Jocko) and asks Kat
...more
Kinga
Feb 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: pub-1963
I stumbled upon this gay cult classic accidentally and went into it without knowing its status or significance. Though, the latter became apparent as I read.

Published in 1963, it’s a picture of the underground gay culture pre-Stonewall, filled with excellent sociological observation and a cast of colourful characters (even if some of them become a little on the nose – I’m looking at you, Nazi masochist with daddy issues).

The character’s journey of wanting love but fearing it and running away fr
...more
ALLEN
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
CITY OF NIGHT is what you get when you cross headlong, Beat Generation writing with a young man's emerging sense of self as gay -- and it's a shocking and wonderful meld indeed. This 1963 novel stunned readers when it first appeared: the narrator whose father's friends demanded he "give them a thousand," his youth as a hustler, the lurking, intense romanticism of various American "entertainment districts." The novel combines an understanding not only of the insistent drumbeats of gay sexuality a ...more
David Gallagher
I wanted to like this book more - I really did. Having been born post the AIDS/HIV discovery era, I was always fascinated by the kind of lifestyle previous to that, and at the same time, felt repulsed by it to a certain degree.

The first chapters of this book are remarkable. Simply magnificent. The memories of childhood the narrator describes are so evocative and realistic it's unbelievable. Many quotes to remember and many things to delve into and take from. The language is the kind of language
...more
Matthew Lawrence
Aug 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recentlyread
Amazingly overdone. It's one of those books that I read really, really slowly just because I didn't want it to be over. Emotionally I think it touched on a lot of stuff I related to (and haven't read about before), to the point where I was willing--happy, even--to overlook things like the description of a hot dog cart as a relic from Hell.
Kerry
Oct 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
I gave it four stars... so you know I enjoyed it. But that doesn't mean I don't have a song and dance to tell you about it now. Let's commence shaking tailfeathers on this, but only one apiece. I don't want any injuries.

Now, let's... talk... GRAMMAR. It's a freaking important part of our language. It can change entire meanings of phrases and sentences. But there are those that like to give you that "I'm an artist and it's how I form my craft" line. When really it's turd. And you do NOT want to
...more
Isaac
Feb 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
I read this because David Bowie cited it as one of his favorite books in an interview, and Bowie's got some good taste (did you know "Wham, bam, thank you mam" is a reference to a Charles Mingus song?) This book is basically a queer take on 'On the Road', featuring Rechy going around the big country hustling himself and writing about it in detail. He's incredibly laid back and observational about the whole thing, whether he's trying to milk money off a rich client in Los Angeles or watching a dr ...more
Judy

Oh the places I go in My Big Fat Reading Project! At #7 on the 1963 bestseller list, this novel was a ground breaker in gay fiction. I had never heard of it but my cohort in the Literary Snobs reading group knew all about it. In some ways it was unlike anything I have ever read while in other ways it felt familiar compared to some of the Beat fiction I have read.

Largely autobiographical, the story follows a young man through his peripatetic nightlife as a hustler in the dark streets of El Paso,
...more
Matthew Gallaway
Jun 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book should be required reading for anyone interested in 1950s/60s "underground culture" (for lack of a better term, or sort of the opposite of straight, white, heteronormative Mad Men). The book is about a mostly gay hustler who drifts through the major U.S. cities and in the process manages to dissect quite a few stereotypes that are still very pervasive on the gender/sexuality front and also manages to invent a new language to describe what feels like a new world. Lonely, punishing, and ...more
Jim Grimsley
May 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
When I picked this book to write about this morning, I noticed that a lot of my friends have written about it, which is natural, since this is an iconic gay male novel, born out of an era in which writing of this blunt honesty was nearly impossible. This is the kind of book that Grove Press was known for, edgy and hard. It is also the kind of book that people speak of as hard, edgy, frank, which means that the writer treats sex in a particular way; at least I find that to be true most of the tim ...more
Chris Muscardin
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt
What a massive, sprawling, and exhausting (in the best possible way) novel. This is one of those which will pick you up, spin you around, chew you up and spit you back out.

I'm unsure how in my collection of gay literature canon I somehow glossed over this novel until now. I'm glad that in this year's endeavor to "re-read my mothers" of gay literature a friend made me pick it up. City of Night follows an unnamed hustler as he bounces through the queer underworlds of America's so-called "cities of
...more
Matthew Marcus
Sep 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Bits of this book are certainly 4-star, a few chapters may even merit 5, but the overall journey through the nocturnal world of 1960s America's gay hustling scene, over almost 400 pages of small print, was just a little too arduous for my liking. The largely passive narrator acts as a device for hearing out the stories of various characters from this furtive sexual underworld, a few of which are incredibly poignant; but there are longueurs too across the many months and miles, and any resolution ...more
Andy
Sep 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gay-lesbian
Before there was "Midnight Cowboy" this classic came along about male prostitution that never sinks into sleaze. Forty five years ago John Rechy wrote about homosexuality with a compassion that America didn't have for gays. "City of Night" runs for almost 400 pages but you'll never get bored because it's so well written.
K.M. Soehnlein
Sep 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A book that feels both of its time and very much ahead of its time.
Skip
Sep 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Whew...This was quite a read.
It was a little hard to get into, but by at least midway, I was sucked into all the dive bars with drag queens, hustlers, "scores", pushers, and the whole underworld of people posing as something else.
It's a tale immense loneliness, and you want this guy to find his way out, and find himself, and maybe some happiness.
But some people — many people — just never do.

Also, a great period piece. If this was written in the early 1960s, and became a best-seller, it must
...more
I. Merey
I actually finished this book months ago, but I never rated it because I wanted to write a comprehensive review and now it was so long ago that all i can say:

1. It was amazing.
Seth
Aug 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the late 1950s, John Rechy returned to his hometown of El Paso, TX, after several years spent criss-crossing the US. Shortly after arriving, he recounted his experiences in a manic letter to a friend. The letter was never sent; instead, it became the staring point for City of Night.

Reading the novel now, it's difficult to imagine the scandal it caused upon publication. The unnamed narrator survives by hustling other men - although the sex scenes are so non-explicit, it's not always clear what
...more
Matthew
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Like many future English majors/wannabe-writers, I was obsessed with postmodern lit between the ages of 17 and 21 – most especially anything associated with the Beat Generation. And while John Rechy’s landmark debut, City of Night, shares many similarities with the Beats that popularized their iconic movement (and the novels that defined it), it managed to fly under my radar. How? Better still, why? I only hope the various lit electives I took as a budding creative writer have since revised thei ...more
Allan
May 26, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up the 50th anniversary copy of this novel in The Strand in NYC based on its blurb, it somehow having passed under my radar in the past. Telling the story of a male hustler in pre Stonewall USA, the book was a Bestseller on release, despite coming in for criticism from many reviewers at the time.

As the main character moves from El Paso to NYC, before taking in cities like LA, Dallas, Chicago and SF, we read stories about the 'dive bars', 'scores', 'queens' and 'hustlers' he encounters,
...more
Bill Wallace
Mar 17, 2015 rated it liked it
At its best when it is nightmarish, John Rechy's classic account of hustling in the occluded world of homosexuality in mid-century America makes a compelling case that sexual identity is a spectrum rather than points on a plane. There are also at least two books here -- one an almost journalistic account of life in the bars and on the streets and another, much less satisfying overlay of drama and unconvincing introspection. Rechy's prose works well when it's sparse but all too often it veers int ...more
Rachel Pollock
Mar 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this book because it was recommended (posthumously, in a long-ago interview) by David Bowie. I have such complicated feelings about it, but i ultimately rated it four stars because even though it depressed the shit out of me by the time i finally made it to the end, i also found so much of it to be familiar in terms of the speech and behavior of the people in it. It's a thinly-veiled roman a clef about the author's life as a rough-trade hustler in the gay scenes of several major US cities ...more
Megan
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Epic and meticulous lightly fictionalized study of gay night life and the hustler lifestyle in the 50s and 60s -- big cast of memorable characters, gorgeous and unsettling writing, concretely structured (in interesting tension with the sprawl of so many scenes), hardened yet tender protag. Took me forever to read but I loved dipping into this world a little bit at a time.

Tons of transmisogyny -- this novel is really a study in that too, in the ways in which it documents (somewhat anthropologica
...more
Simon Hollway
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Set before my time but I was blown away by the language, the ghetto pattois, the polari, call it what you will. That cool, hip and wantonly slick and sleek flow of words, I had never encountered before. What a loss! Much of the vernacular did fill in some missing blanks and made me understand many terms still floating about on the modern scene. Wow! Such beautiful, evocative dialogue. Never fear though. That slacker mentality is thankfully back in its mischievously muted manner - 'It gave me the ...more
Patrick Hackett
May 02, 2018 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this more than I actually did. Rechy does a beautiful - and I mean stunningly beautiful - job painting a vivid picture of the cities and the gay underground culture of the 1960's that the protagonist inhabited. But beyond that I found there to be so much psychobabble and pretension that the book was at times completely insufferable. I'm glad I read it since it's a gay classic, but would not read again.
Clark
Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was ok
I read this book and it's extremely overrated, drags on for way too long and should have been edited more, and Rechy's narcissism and snobbery shows through the fiction. There are better Rechy books out there such as Numbers. This book is not one of his best, and unfortunately people fluff it as though it is his best, and most people do not read any of his other novels.
Jacob Carll
I honestly struggled to just get through it to the end. The beginning was great and I was hooked for about 100 pages... and then it started to feel REALLY repetitive. I started to lose focus just because the stories all felt the same, I couldn’t keep any of the characters in order and by the last 60 pages I started to gloss over just to finish.
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John Rechy is an American author, the child of a Scottish father and a Mexican-American mother. In his novels he has written extensively about homosexual culture in Los Angeles and wider America, and is among the pioneers of modern LGBT literature. Drawing on his own background, he has also contributed to Chicano literature, especially with his novel The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez, which is ta ...more

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