|VOL. 1 NO. 1 AUGUST 1999|
The Coming of the Night
One of the first book reviews I ever did was of a novel called "The Fourth Angel," by John Rechy. It was a violent coming-of-age novel involving four El Paso street kids, each trying to face their fears about friendship, love, sex, and death. It was a good book-- one of Rechys best-- and it took him in a new direction. It was his first book in which homosexuality did not play a major part. Nearly thirty years later Rechy has written a book in which twelve gay men cruise the Los Angeles streets in search of friendship, love, sex, and death.
Rechy first raised my consciousness in 1963 with "City of Night," a brilliantly written novel of what was then thought of (by the few people who knew about it at all) as the dark underbelly of American sexuality-- the shadowy, mostly secret hangouts of male hustlers and transvestites in New York City, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. Over the years he has followed this up with novels on almost every aspect of gay life: the hustlers, the cruising, the queens, the leather bars, the closet gays, the queer-bashings. Rechy has explored these areas better and thoroughly than any other writer, first in "City of Night," then in "Numbers," "The Vampires," "Rushes," "The Sexual Outlaw," and others.
"The Coming of the Night" is more of the same. A dozen characters troop through its pages, searching for sex during one hot night in Los Angeles. The year is 1981, a time of gay pride in California. And the gay men in "The Coming of Night" are unabashedly so, proud of both their sexuality and their masculinity. Its the golden age of promiscuity, an age where excess can quickly become the norm. Twelve men cruise the streets in search of love, but also in search of meaning. There is Jesse, a young man who wants to celebrate the anniversary of his coming out; Dave, a leather biker into deep S&M; Father Norris, a Catholic priest searching for a young man called Angel; and even the cast of an all-male adult movie. They move in ever-diminishing circles, wary of each other but determined, somehow, to connect.
But on this busy night, Los Angeles is in the grip of deep summer, and a Santa Ana wind is sweeping through the city. Hot breezes are stirring debris along the sidewalks and sexual tensions are building. It is hot in every sense of the word and everyone has the exhilarating feeling that something special will happen on this night. Something wild: cars backing up along the street, honking, "young people gathering before music clubs, their bodies twisting as if rehearsing their moves; pedestrians running against traffic." And fantasies abound.
But what the men don't know is that fires are breaking out in the valley and creeping inexorably toward the city. The fires, of course, symbolize the AIDS virus, "that new gay illness." Yet, although we are reminded of death almost constantly as the fires creep forward, the illness is only mentioned twice in the entire book, and never by name. We feel its presence without its being broadcast. There are biblical symbols as well: a Christ figure, angels, a priest, salvation, the number 12, even a gruesome crucifixion.
"The Coming of Night" is broken up into ten major sections, each section containing twelve chapters-- one from each character's point of view. And like the sexual tensions that are building up in the city, Rechy builds up each story until the heated end.
"City of Night" was one of the first books to usher in the era of permissiveness in language, and "The Coming of the Night" is no different. But except for the AIDS twist, this novel breaks no new ground. Many of his characters could have stepped out of the pages of "Rushes" or "Sexual Outlaw" and the religion is done better and more thoroughly in Rechy's wonderful but neglected "The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez."
"The Coming of the Night" is not Rechy's best novel. Neither is it his worst. If you haven't read "City of Night," do so. Its a classic. So is "The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez." And the fondly remembered "The Fourth Angel" is another good one. If you like these, by all means check out Rechy's other stuff, including this one. He is an American writer of the first rank, and there are very few of these left.
- P. V. LeForge
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