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John Rechy’s latest book, After the Blue Hour (Grove), is a study in ambiguity. He refers to the book as “true fiction” on the title page, yet the promotional materials call it a “novel of psychosexual gamesmanship” (emphasis mine). Blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction even further is the protagonist, a certain John Rechy, a twenty-four-year-old gay man who recounts an odd summer in 1960. But is this really the author John Rechy, who would have been twenty-nine that summer? There’s psychosexual gamesmanship in After the Blue Hour, yes, but there are authorial and narrative games going on here as well.
After the Blue Hour starts out mysteriously when John Rechy, a writer from Los Angeles, decides to accept an invitation from Paul, a man in his late thirties and a complete stranger to John, to spend the summer with him on a private island. In his letter, Paul writes that he is an admirer of John’s work, and of two stories in particular: “Mardi Gras” in Evergreen Review and “The Fabulous Wedding of Miss Destiny” in Big Table. Not surprisingly, these were two of the author’s early stories, published in those same magazines. Once on the island, Paul introduces John to Sonya, his mistress, and to his son, Stanty.
The beginning of the visit is relaxing enough. Stanty has yet to show how manipulative he can be. Sonya and John hit it off as well. Paul and John talk about the arts during the “blue hour,” those “few seconds of blue light between dusk and night.” Despite the calm, there’s an erotic charge in the way John describes life on the island. While he is enticed by Sonya’s beauty and sensuality, it is with Paul that we are privy to a more complicated eroticism. While both are shirtless on the sundeck John says:
I looked away from him and lay back. I didn’t want him to see me glancing at his body, in competition, not desire, no, only because my eyes, while comparing bodies had noticed what seemed to indicate the prominence of his endowment. In my whole life I have concentrated on my whole body as the object of attraction, but I am also secure in my endowment, and always competitive. Still, it annoyed me that Paul seemed to emphasize the bulge between his legs–but then, it was possible that sunbathing next to Sonya, with the top of her bathing suit removed, accounted for a slight arousal, and therefore a misleading impression.
There’s a gradual intensifying of eroticism in After the Blue Hour. John’s observation of his host’s body comes early in the book and is more suggestive than explicit. Later, on the deck one day, Paul quite suddenly discusses in detail his sexual past, which includes his affinity for playing “dangerous games.” It’s mostly sexual talk, but it should come as no surprise that John will be faced with the question of whether or not he will be a participant in one of the games.
Whether or not these sexual games that turn violent are games at all remains in question. Perhaps that’s as it should be in a book whose author cleverly plays his own literary games on the reader. Grappling with what might be a sexual game and what might be real seems apt for a book that is called “true fiction.”
Now eighty-five years old, John Rechy began pushing boundaries with his first novel, City of Night, published when he was thirty-two. It’s deeply inspiring–at least to this reader and writer–that John Rechy is as bold as ever. When Gore Vidal said that Rechy was “one of the few original American writers of the last century,” he was right. There’s no other writer like him, and with the publication of After the Blue Hour, he shows no signs of letting up.
After the Blue Hour
By John Rechy
Hardcover, 9780802125897, 212 pp.