Click topic below for commentary.

Letter to Councilman LaBonge
Real People as Fictional Characters
Female Actors, Part Two
One Culture Hero Award
Adelante Gay Pride Gala
Best Work of Fiction?
Tom of Finland: Sexual Liberator or Enslaver
Lying Writers
Review of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson
Promiscuous Thoughts
A Crime of the Heart
A Letter to Michael Silverblatt
"Have you no decency, sir?"
Political Incorrectness: Female Actors and Trojans
He Hugged Moms and Dads
What is a Girly Man?
Review of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
From Sunset Boulevard to Mulholland Drive
The Gay Mammies
A Writer Protests
Review of Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro
A Spirit Preserved in 'Amber'
The Supreme Court Case
Review of Live from Golgotha: The Gospel According to Gore Vidal
Review of Lost Years: A Memoir 1945-1951 by Christopher Isherwood
Review of Out For Good
Review of Hoyt Street: an Autobiography
Review of Sergei Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict.
Review of Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation
Review of Whores for Gloria
Muscles and Mascara
Review of "Blonde"
Brother Paul, Sister Jan, Brother Hinn, God and the Folks
Advice to the Next Generation
Sins of the Fathers
Beatin' Around the Bush

Cruise Not Gay! The Judge Has Spoken

The Horror, The Horror
LA--a Cliché?
Dominick, Mark & Orenthal
Holy Drag!
Ms. Hill & Mr. Tom
Mrs. guy Ritchie 
Supreme Court 
Tom Cruise 
Eminem 
New Times Article 


  
  
  
  
  
A Writer Protests

June 17, 1996

Ms. Barbara Epstein
Editor, The New York Review of Books
250 West 57th Street
New York, New York 10107

Dear Ms. Epstein,

I appreciate your extending me space in your "Letters" Column to answer, finally, Alfred Chester's "review" of City of Night. My letter is enclosed.

I understand your space-limitations, and I reworked my letter over and over, from 1700+ words to its present 668. It's impossible for me to cut any more and still make my point. I'm sure you won't consider me arbitrary in asking that my letter appear only as written. I hope you'll allow me the few extra lines to have my full say.

Thank you for your courtesy. I'll look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

John Rechy


June 17, 1996
To the Editors,
The New York Review of Books:

In May 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 titled it "Fruit Salad." I was young, baffled by the personal assault, and I did not protest. I'm no longer young, I understand the attack, and I protest the abuse and its recent extension.

Chester questioned my very existence, a twist of meanness seized by others of his ilk in The New Republic, The Village Voice, and in tabloids. Consequently, impostors emerged, their behavior attributed to me in gossip columns. (I had chosen to retain my privacy.) The impact of Chester's "review" was possible because it appeared in your journal.

City of Night became an international bestseller, has never been out of print, is taught in literature courses.

Chester's "review" would have become at most a ridiculed footnote if you had not dug it up in 1988 in your collection of reviews, Selections. Again you exposed Chester's leering at my photograph, his giddy tone ("Oooo, Mary"), his attempted disparagement even of my name. The doubting of my existence was more offensive when I had gone on to write many more books. The original headline updated your imprimatur on the word "fruit."

You answered my objection: ". . . we should have removed the title. I'm sorry."

In May this year you offered a copy of Selections, with a new cover, inviting subscribers to learn what your reviewers wrote about Burroughs's and Baldwin's books considered "modern classics." Since City of Night is also referred to as a "modern classic," I assumed Chester's "review" was omitted. It was intact. A letter from you answering mine maintained that the edition was--"apparently"--not a new printing. Still, Chester's performance was extended.

Responding to an interview with me in Poets & Writers, Edward Field, Chester's once-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. . . ."

In his United States: Essays 1954-1994, Gore Vidal, discussing Selections, labels Chester's "review" "absolutely unfair," yet "murderously funny . . . a trick that only a high critic knows how to pull off"--a trick Mr. Vidal goes on to claim he, too, can perform. I reminded Mr. Vidal that he has been the object of "murderously funny" criticism. I asked him whether not even the title of the "review" had made him wince. 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. . . . 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. . . . I don't even recall the offensive title." Mr. Vidal's approval of Chester's malice--not art--remains in his volume.

Each time you exhume Chester's spite on a novel that has proven him wrong, you condone his dishonorable motives, motives Chester makes clear in his "review":

Categorizing the hustler in my novel as "the kind of person we now speak of as `someone incapable of love'" Chester 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.

Sincerely,

John Rechy

Previous Letter Read next letter  
     
Table of Contents


Back to top 

Original material by John Rechy appears frequently on these pages.


© John Rechy, 1999-2006. All rights reserved.
Original material may not be used without author's permission. 
For questions please contact Speakingout@JohnRechy.com