Beneath the Skin: The Collected Essays of John Rechy

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Carroll & Graf, 2004 - Literary Criticism - 303 pages
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When John Rechy broke out in 1963 as the bestselling author of City of Night, his novel about the underworld of gay male prostitution, he became a source for provocative commentary on sex, homosexuality, and culturally transgressive literature for publications as varied as the New York Times, The Nation, the Advocate, and Forum. Beneath the Skin collects more than four decades of the author's outspoken essays--many never before reprinted and almost none ever appearing previously in book form. Rechy holds forth on topics ranging from the birth of the sexual liberation movement, the rise of Anita Bryant, and the emergence of AIDS to sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and last year's repeal of sodomy laws. Beneath the Skin also includes pieces on gay and lesbian authors such as Gore Vidal, Jack Kerouac, Christopher Isherwood, Carson McCullers, and Elizabeth Bowen, and non-gay figures like Philip Roth, William T. Vollman, and Joyce Carol Oates, as well as essays on Madonna, Tom Cruise, Eminem, Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, and the gay silent film star Ramon Novarro.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - lilithcat - LibraryThing

The earliest of these essays is from 1958, the latest from 2004. Naturally, there is some repetition of ideas. They range from essays about other writers (he's virulent about Joyce Carol Oates' Blonde) to the portrayal of homosexuality in film to politics, past and present. Read full review

Beneath the skin: the collective essays

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

When Rechy's novel, City of the Night , burst onto the scene in 1963, it was both lauded and attacked as one of the first unrepentant chronicles of gay male sexuality. Since then, Rechy has published ... Read full review

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About the author (2004)

Rechy is an important gay writer also linked to the Beat Movement, whose work has been recognized by a number of prestigious grant nominations or awards, including one from the National Endowment for the Arts. He grew up in El Paso, Texas, in a poor, Mexican American family. Because of his poverty and his ethnic heritage, he learned very early in life to feel himself an outsider, which was intensified by his later experiences as a gay hustler traveling America in search of his social and sexual identity. He came to popular and critical attention with his first published novel, City of Night (1963), which was a bestseller and was nominated for the International Prix Formentor. A fictionalized account of his travels, the novel focuses on the people whom the unnamed narrator encounters on the hustling scene in a number of cities, including New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Together, these cities make up the titular "city of night," or, as Rechy writes, "the city of night of the soul." A state of mind rather than a particular place, this "city"---modern America---is where hypocrisy and homophobia are reconciled with the fact of homosexuality in various forms, and poverty may be more spiritual than material. The book owes something to two classics: Jack Kerouac's Beat novel, On the Road, which celebrates countercultural alternatives to middle-class culture and lifestyles, including bourgeois marriage and family life, and Djuna Barnes's modernist novel Nightwood, which explores a tragic gay "nightworld" as a symbol of the modern urban wasteland. Rechy addresses similar themes in a later work that is equally well known, The Sexual Outlaw (1977), which he has described as an experiment with the novel form. Ostensibly a documentary of the life of a gay man, the book is also a critique of American values and morality. Commentaries throughout the text are really journalistic essays that expose the double standards and double binds of a "closeted" culture, in which many fear to be openly gay because of homophobic reprisals. Rechy has suggested that all of his work (which includes plays, essays, and reviews, as well as novels) articulates the need to preserve gay "difference," which he associates with "abundant sexuality," in the face of increasing "heterofascism.

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