| A Writer Protests
Editor, The New York Review of Books
250 West 57th Street
New York, New York 10107
In May of
1963, there appeared in your journal a piece of malice
posing as a review of my first novel, City of Night.
The "review" was written by Alfred Chester.
You added the headline, "Fruit Salad." I was
young then, bewildered by the assault, and I did not protest.
I'm no longer young, I understand the attack, and thirty
years later I protest the abuse and its recent extension.
my existence, a twist of meanness seized by others of
his ilk in The New Republic, The Village
Voice, in tabloids. Impostors emerged, their behavior
attributed to me in gossip columns. (I had left the country
to retain my threatened privacy.) The impact of Chester's
"review" was possible because it appeared in
Night topped bestseller lists, was translated into
a dozen languages, has never been out of print. In 1993,
Hugo Marsan wrote in Le Monde: ". . . the
novel has not aged a bit. . . . We understand better its
exceptional authenticity, its premonitory vision, its
subtle literary innovations."
"review" would have become at most a ridiculed
footnote if you had not dug it up in 1988 when you issued
a collection of early reviews in Selections.
Again you exposed Chester's leering remarks about my photograph,
his giddy tone ("Oooo, Mary"), his attempted
disparagement even of my name. The doubting of my existence
was even more offensive when I had gone on to write many
more books. The original headline updated your imprimatur
on a word gay-bashers use.
I wrote you,
objecting and received this answer: ". . . when we
reprinted the Alfred Chester piece, we should have removed
the title. I'm sorry."
In May this
year your advertisement in The New York Times Book
Review solicited subscribers and promised a copy
of your Selections, reborn. The advertisement invited
readers to learn what your reviewers wrote about books
by Burroughs and Baldwin, books considered "modern
classics." Since City of Night is also referred
to as a "modern classic," I assumed the Chester
"review" was omitted. I was wrong. A letter
from you responding to mine maintained that the edition
was--"apparently"--not a new printing, despite
the cover. Still, Chester's performance was extended.
to an interview with me in Poets & Writers,
Edward Field, Chester's own editor, wrote to the magazine:
"It was with a good deal of sadness that I read .
. . of the damage done to City of Night by the
late Alfred Chester's bitchy review. . . . It was a considerable
understatement to call Chester `notoriously disturbed.'
. . . He was mad . . . cruel and destructive, as his review
demonstrates. . . . In explaining and apologizing for
[Chester's] disservice to Rechy, an author I greatly admire,
I should point out that the title of the offending review
. . . was not Alfred Chester's but the New York Review
of Books's, which has long demonstrated homophobia
in its essays and cartoons."
In his United States: Essays 1954-1994, Gore Vidal
labeled Chester's "review" "totally unfair,"
yet identified its "murderously funny" approach
as a "trick that only a high critic knows how to
pull off." I disagreed and pointed out to Mr. Vidal
that he, too, had often been the object of "murderously
funny" criticism. He wrote back: "I very much
admire City of Night. . . . Also . . . I admire
a kind of performance in criticism which is often plainly
gratuitously destructive but at the same time a sort of
art. . . . Chester, a moral monster, one gathers, was,
for a time, a master of this sort of thing . . . and I
had forgotten about him entirely until I reread his `totally
unfair' piece and I'm afraid I succumbed yet again to
his black arts." Unfortunately, Mr. Vidal's approval
will remain, unqualified, in his book of essays.
my novel to Chester, you guaranteed invective, since Chester
was widely known as a "monster." "[I]t
was himself [Chester] was savagely attacking in the review,"
Mr. Field points out in is letter, ". . . the same
rage turned on himself . . . ultimately destroyed him."
Chester revealed his true motives in one sentence of his
"review." Categorizing the hustler in my novel
as "the kind of person we now speak of as `someone
incapable of love'" he continues: "And, as with
all these people, if you are hot for them enough, or bedeviled
and tormented by them enough, and if you look and examine
very hard, you will find that it is not at all true that
they cannot love. They can; they do; alas, they love too
much, which is the problem, for they are always loving
someone else." But never Chester.
your journal to attempt literary murder because of his
sexual envies. By having allowed that and by contributing
the odious title, you became collaborators in his dishonorable
intention; and you assert that role by perpetuating spite
on a novel that has proven you and the "monster"
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Original material by John Rechy appears
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