OUTLAW: The Lives and Careers of John Rechy

Charles Casillo, Author . Alyson/Advocate $14.95 (309p) ISBN 978-1-55583-734-1

John Rechy's 1963 debut, City of Night, a thinly fictionalized account of his adventures in male hustling from one end of the country to the other, was a milestone in American gay literature. But even as Rechy, who had grown up in the Mexican slums of El Paso, Tex., became a literary darling, he continued having sex for money and went to great lengths to keep his two worlds separate. This biography by L.A.-based journalist and novelist Casillo (The Marilyn Diaries), written with extensive cooperation from his subject, is most engrossing when it focuses on the years immediately before and after that initial success, when Rechy was constantly testing his personal and creative limits. As he makes the transition from dazzling young writer to literary icon, the anecdotes become much less interesting. Casillo doesn't delve much into the psychological aspects of Rechy's sexuality beyond hinting at the possibility of childhood sexual abuse by his domineering father, and while some might look at Rechy's behavior as a pattern of sexual addiction, the biography merely ventures that one novel, depicting the author's quest to seduce 30 men in quick succession, indicates an "excessive attachment to sex." Given the raw, primal quality of the frequent excerpts from Rechy's fiction, it's disappointing that the biographer's prose can't rise to the occasion; clichés like "one of those budding sexual experiences when the universe conspires with you and everything falls into place" are all too common. This respectful life story will confirm Rechy's status among literary critics and will undoubtedly reintroduce him to a new generation of gay readers, but it lacks the oomph for mainstream success. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 11/18/2002
Release date: 12/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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