Cover image for The life and adventures of Lyle Clemens
The life and adventures of Lyle Clemens
Rechy, John.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xvii, 324 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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"From the author of the classic City of Night comes a captivating, wickedly entertaining novel in which an irrepressible young hero is set loose in the religious-fundamentalist world of Texas, the gambling palaces of Las Vegas, and the enticing mythos of Los Angeles. The internationally renowned novelist recently described by Gore Vidal as ""one of the few original writers of the last century"" re-creates himself yet again with a witty bildungsroman that pays homage to the classic eighteenth-century picaresque."

Author Notes

Rechy is an important gay writer also linked to the Beat Movement, whose work has been recognized by a number of prestigious grant nominations or awards, including one from the National Endowment for the Arts. He grew up in El Paso, Texas, in a poor, Mexican American family. Because of his poverty and his ethnic heritage, he learned very early in life to feel himself an outsider, which was intensified by his later experiences as a gay hustler traveling America in search of his social and sexual identity. He came to popular and critical attention with his first published novel, City of Night (1963), which was a bestseller and was nominated for the International Prix Formentor. A fictionalized account of his travels, the novel focuses on the people whom the unnamed narrator encounters on the hustling scene in a number of cities, including New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Together, these cities make up the titular "city of night," or, as Rechy writes, "the city of night of the soul." A state of mind rather than a particular place, this "city"---modern America---is where hypocrisy and homophobia are reconciled with the fact of homosexuality in various forms, and poverty may be more spiritual than material. The book owes something to two classics: Jack Kerouac's Beat novel, On the Road, which celebrates countercultural alternatives to middle-class culture and lifestyles, including bourgeois marriage and family life, and Djuna Barnes's modernist novel Nightwood, which explores a tragic gay "nightworld" as a symbol of the modern urban wasteland. Rechy addresses similar themes in a later work that is equally well known, The Sexual Outlaw (1977), which he has described as an experiment with the novel form. Ostensibly a documentary of the life of a gay man, the book is also a critique of American values and morality. Commentaries throughout the text are really journalistic essays that expose the double standards and double binds of a "closeted" culture, in which many fear to be openly gay because of homophobic reprisals. Rechy has suggested that all of his work (which includes plays, essays, and reviews, as well as novels) articulates the need to preserve gay "difference," which he associates with "abundant sexuality," in the face of increasing "heterofascism." (Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

This ambitious and very funny novel tells the coming-of-age story of Lyle Clemens, "the child who would grow up to become the Mystery Cowboy who appeared naked along Hollywood Boulevard." It's a tall tale, a simultaneously sweet and vicious satire of contemporary America, with the handsome, empathic and guileless Lyle an innocent in a cruel world serving as vehicle for Rechy's reflections on religion, sexuality, fame and greed. Self-consciously modeled on Henry Fielding's 18th-century classic The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, the book begins with Lyle's birth in Rio Escondido, Tex., to the unwed Sylvia Love, whose dream of becoming Miss America was shattered by her Bible-thumping mother Eulah. The book feels at times like one of Robert Altman's classic films, perhaps Nashville, with its expansive canvas and its mixture of humor and sadness. Moving with fluid grace from Anaheim, Calif., to Las Vegas and Hollywood, the story features a large cast of characters, most of whom use Lyle to further their own ambitions, notably Brother Bud and Sister Sis, a pair of greedy televangelists, and a has-been actress named Tarah Worth. Rechy has great command of this sprawling narrative, and he generally strikes the right balance between satire and real emotion. His humor can be less than subtle an unsavory pair of mismatched pornographers and a crooked banker are named after several standing Supreme Court justices and his explicit, campy sex scenes won't please everyone. Still, this distinctly American novel is ultimately about the search for love and redemption, about the ideal of "amazing grace" from the old song that serves as a touchstone for Lyle. It's a comic tour de force and, at the same time, a truly heartfelt book. (Oct.) Forecast: Rechy, author of the 1963 gay classic City of Night, is an American original a kind of cross between Mark Twain and Terry Southern. This new book should introduce him to a broader range of readers and strengthen his claim to stardom. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Taking Henry Fielding's Tom Jones as its model, this is the picaresque tale of a small-town Texas boy who finds his way to Hollywood. Lyle Clemens is born to Sylvia Love, a former beauty queen who harbored dreams of becoming Miss America before her fundamentalist mother publicly quashed her ambitions. His father is a handsome, mysterious cowboy who left Lyle's mother when he found out that she was pregnant. Combining the soul of a Hank Williams with the innocence of a Jethro Clampett, Lyle grows up to be the guitar-strumming image of his father, falling in love with the starry-eyed Maria before taking off for California with a group of Pentecostal revivalists. After the Pentecostals are arrested, Lyle encounters a variety of schemers and con artists, including patrician pornographers, an eccentric gambler (named Mr. Fielding), and an aging starlet who attempts to use him to stage an improbable comeback. This raucous, hormone-fueled Bildungsroman takes its hero through the tabloid underbelly of America as he seeks to find his father-and himself. Recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/03.]-Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.