My Rating: 4 out of 5
John Rechy’s first novel, City of Night, an international bestseller, is considered a modern classic. Subsequent work asserts his place among America’s most important writers. The author’s most daring work, After the Blue Hour is narrated by a twenty-four-year-old writer named John Rechy. Fleeing a turbulent life in Los Angeles, he accepts an invitation to a private island from an admirer of his work. There, he joins Paul, his imposing host in his late thirties, his beautiful mistress, and his precocious teenage son. Browsing Paul’s library and conversing together on the deck about literature and film during the spell of evening’s “blue hour,” John feels surcease, until, with unabashed candor, Paul shares intimate details of his life. Through cunning seductive charm, he married and divorced an ambassador’s daughter and the heiress to a vast fortune. Avoiding identifying his son’s mother, he reveals an affinity for erotic “dangerous games.” With intimations of past decadence and menace, an abandoned island nearby arouses tense fascination over the group. As “games” veer toward violence, secrets surface in startling twists and turns. Explosive confrontation becomes inevitable.
I received an ebook ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with this copy.
I had not read John Rechy before reading this book, and so had no preconceptions of style or story. The book is written from the point of view of John Rechy, presented as a character, rather than literally the author himself. However, the opening of the book is written as an author embarking on a holiday, after receiving correspondence from his publisher (Grove Atlantic) and so, even before the story had begun, I was questioning how autobiographical this book would turn out to be. This question did not get answered through the course of the book, rather the book hints one way, and then the other, leaving you constantly in doubt about how much is autobiographical truth, and how much is imaginative fiction. I still have no idea if the real John Rechy was invited to a private island by an admirer of his work (although instinctually, for reasons I can’t articulate, I’m inclined to think he was), and if the candid conversation and risky games really took place. It is hard to draw the line to between ‘actually happened’ and fictional extreme. This feels entirely intentional, and certainly adds to the intrigue of this book.
This is not a book for the weak-stomached. At all times is graphic, frank, candid. It does not seek your approval or judgement, it just is.
The relationships between the various characters on the island is where the action is in this story. Asking what is truth and what is exaggeration is constant as John Rechy tries to figure out the personalities of his hosts. Everything seems to be a game, but at the same time is so detailed and convincingly executed that you question if it isn’t something more serious or sinister. This particularly true of Paul. It is never quite clear what his motive is for inviting John to the island in the first place, or for then relaying his sordid love life, with shocking and violent sincerity, to John.
I found it to be an interesting read, deeply unsettling (as I suspect it is meant to be), and something I couldn’t drag my eyes away from.
If you want something gritty to get your teeth into and don’t mind coming out the other side feeling slightly shaken and a little weird, I recommend giving it a read.