About My Life and the Kept Woman
Grove Atlantic Press
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". . . absolutely wrenching and intriguing."
Not the most uplifting book, but absolutely wrenching and intriguing, About My Life and the Kept Woman is set mostly in El Paso, one of two juxtaposed cities: Juarez in Mexico and El Paso in Texas. The author describes a life where Latinos are routinely discriminated against and sometimes persecuted.
The railroad divides and defines the Mexican poor and the Anglo wealthy. John Rechy learns at a very early age that he is different. Born to a Scottish father and a Mexican mother, he recognizes that difference is not only in his pale skin, blonde hair, upturned eyelashes and blue eyes, but in the reaction he evokes from people who find him beautiful and later on sexy-looking, attracting invitations from males.
He constantly fights with his inner self about who is and who he is not. Because of his good looks, he is often mistaken for Anglo. He has his name changed to “John” from Juan by a teacher who feels it is a better name for him to use.
Displaced and impoverished by the Mexican revolution and then the Great Depression in the United States, the family becomes involved in a societal hierarchy, disdaining those Mexicans of Indian ancestry. Purportedly this lower class of Mexicans is distinguished by dark skin, crude mannerisms, and coarse down-turned tilted eyelashes.
John’s father is abusive, subject to rages, and takes it out on his wife and youngest son. Dejected because he had to leave his privileged life as a professor in Mexico, the father never adjusts to the lesser life he has and never reconciles the fact of his lesser status. Two of his other sports-minded, macho sons escape the difficult household to go out on their own. His sisters marry to get away from the dysfunctional family, leaving John to protect his patient and loving mother.
As he grows older and as his fascination with the memory of a notorious and beautiful kept woman whom he meets at twelve years of age grows, Rechy becomes aware that his differences lie not just in his heritage but in his sexuality. Performing the roles that others want for him, he never allows them to define him, whether it is the authoritarians in the U. S. Army during the Korean War, the bigoted relatives of his Anglo college classmates, or the men and women who want him to be something he is not.
Revealing a life that at times shows the darker side of human nature, John’s experiences are exquisitely detailed. He drags his readers along with the retelling of the seedier side of life which he keeps secret from everyone. We are drawn into the up and down turns of his life, some of which might seem revolting to the uninitiated.
Constantly arguing with himself throughout his life as to whether he is really homosexual, he evokes myriad emotions in the reader, forcing us to share in the life he conveys. Whether we like the life he leads or not, we are transported along with him to a life we could never imagine.
His first book, City of Night, portrays his life on the fringes in such totality, and it becomes an overnight sensation. Rechy forges his own path in the usually staid publishing world and is recognized for the immense body of work in his subsequent novels.
The fact that Rechy can recall his darker side, unashamed, in spite of some of our encapsulated standards of right and wrong, is a testament to all that he becomes. He ultimately accepts who he really is, catapulted by a sense of pride and great spirit with an understanding of his uniqueness.
Reviewer: Sandra McCart