Since 1866 The Place in Austin GOOD FOOD GOOD BEER 1607 San Jacinto 477-4171 MARTIN ELFANT SUN LIFE OF CANADA LIFE HEALTH DENTAL 600 JEFFERSON SUITE 430 HOUSTON, TEXAS 224-0686 INI II11 NI MI I= IN MIE FUTURA PRESS AUSTIN TEXAS Ask for the Union Label on your printing. It doesn’t cost you more, but it shows that you care more! FUTURA PRESS Phone 512/442-7838 1714 SOUTH CONGRESS P.O. BOX 3485 AUSTIN, TEXAS 1___________ _____1 Rechy’ The Fourth Angel By Steve Barthelme The Fourth Angel, John Rechy, Viking, 158 pages, $5.95. London John Rechy’s fifth novel is, I think, his best work to date, which is to say it’s very good, because the previous four novels weren’t bad, although each carried more failures than successes. It is ironic, but understandable, that Rechy’s success comes in so short, simple and “conventional” a book as The Fourth Angel. Each of the earlier novels \(excepting perhaps found their strengths in excess; this new one succeeds more fully with a harshly exercised control. It’s as if Rechy’s prose has finally fallen into sync. Although The Fourth Angel sounds a lot like This Day’s Death, its tightly controlled form works better than that of the earlier novel because it is more integral, less obviously constructed, less artificial. And The Fourth Angel finally resembles more The Vampires perhaps it is even the same book at base, only done differently. If it is true that an artist writes the same book over and over until he gets it right, then with the publication of The Fourth Angel Rechy has got it, and wants new concerns. In the new novel he has successfully dealt with personal isolation, the inadequacy of killing feeling to kill fear, and the necessity \(and coincident life and one’s self “reality.” The book carries the refreshing and rewarding sense of optimism-because-there’s-nothing-else, of “I know, I know, let’s go on.” HE FOURTH ANGEL follows three bored and unhappy El Paso teenagers who pick up a fourth and wander around town harassing “weirdos,” taking drugs, playing mind-games and trying to come to terms with repressed incidents or circumstances in their own lives, usually in the context of their families. The boys’ mothers are respectively, vicious, lesbian and recently dead, and the girl’s father raped her at age eleven. They call themselves “angels” and try to find safety from pain in a community of viciousness of their own, thinking that enough cruelty will eventually enable them to “stop feeling.” They do “experience trips . . . so we can fucking cope with all the bad shit they’re going to fucking throw at us, man that’s fucking why!” Without feeling they will be safe and happy. This kind of theory figures heavily in City of Night, Rechy’s first novel, but from a radically different perspective. The inadequacy of their solution gradually becomes apparent to even the most dimly perceptive of the group. It falls apart when Jerry, the fourth A review “angel,” discovers that feeling is too strong to be erased by the mechanical or chemical means which prove either inadequate or only temporary. He chooses to accept feeling because he really has no choice, and their little community falls apart. There are flaws. Rechy’s overwritten style is still with us, but only becomes detrimental in a few places. The recurrent compounding of “young man” into “youngman” which is in the other novels is a gesture which never has worked. And the replacement of speaking verbs \(“said,” active verbs \(“slashed,” “aimed,” “seizes” Nothing sticks out as badly as a failed device, and Rechy would do better without them. We could also live without so many lines of dialogue with “fucking” in them, even dialogue intending to reproduce the speech of sixteen year olds desperate to appear tough. Rechy’s prose has always been a little erratic, the brush slips, but in The Fourth Angel the missteps recede and his strange, almost primitive skill takes over, resulting in passages like this: Soon, rushing there as if to outspeed their thoughts before they form, they’re in Anapra, a small town in New Mexico, just minutes outside of El Paso. A town more like a village, it’s an awkward, ugly conglomeration of adobe houses in which poor Chicanos live. The streets are cloudy with dust. On a tall mountain dominating the village is an awesome, giant statue of Christ; a strong, stone, primitive Jesus with arms outstretched. Railroad tracks tangle like angry snakes at the foot of the mountain, and the Rio Grande meanders casually past a small bridge, on which, on hot evenings, restless young Chicanos stand waiting sullenly for nothing. There’s an ironic scattering of nightclubs in the village and a disdainful racetrack. And on a filthy street; more like a field of dirt than a street, is The Seed a doper hangout: a square, squat, flimsy building like an abandoned barn. Beer, wine, soft drinks are sold inside. Outside, a ragged camp of young hippy gypsies exchange dope openly. THE METAPHYSICS which might ruin another book, all the talk about isolation and love and life, fade into the texture of the novel because the characters are adolescents. The problems are the same The Vampires, but the choice of sixteen year olds to play them out is perfect, because sixteen year olds can so convincingly be sophisticated and naive at the same time. Introspection becomes part of the dramatization. Where The Vampires used the flashiest, most exotic characters available, The Fourth Angel uses the dullest. A stroke, a step forward. You don’t get lost in the glare. The choice of teenagers has other advantages, not the least of which is that it sets the book against the truckloads of other, bad books which have been published over the last few years, the my-delicate-perceptionsdeserve-your-attention crowd. Which position can only make a good book look better. Rechy’s continual concern and sometime obsession with sexuality holds a diminished though still major place in the new novel. The tendency of homosexuals, Sept. 21, 1973 15
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