As some of you may recall, I recently asked various questions about bits of the story content in the film MIDNIGHT COWBOY. Well, I have now read the source novel — a 1965 first edition hardcover with dust jacket obtained for a total of $7.95 including postage and handling; thank you, eBay!!! — and other than a few small but telling details the film is a pretty faithful adaptation.
The book opens with would-be stud-for-hire Joe Buck getting ready to leave his Podunk Texas town, recalling the events that set him upon his sordid path.
Here are the pertinent details:
-Joe was born out of wedlock to a mother who may or may not have been a prostitute, and raised by a succession of blondes who may have been his aunts or other whores until being dropped off to live with his grandmother, Sally Buck, at approximately age nine. During these years Joe sexually imprinted on fleshy blondes, and that imprinting was cemented once he entered into an incestuous relationship with Sally. Upon Sally’s death while Joe was serving in the army, he loses all sense of direction and security since Sally was the only real family or friend he ever had.
-Joe lost his virginity during his mid-teens to Annie, the local high school nympho, a girl who would regularly take on six boys at a time upon a dirty mattress behind a movie theater screen, each waiting patiently in line for his turn and watching his comrades exert themselves upon the unmoved Annie.
That is, unmoved until a novice Joe seriously turned on her lights, leading to a secret relationship that was squelched when one of Annie’s many jealous “users” alerted her father to his daughter’s activities, after which Annie was swiftly institutionalized.
-Joe befriends a local hustler named Perry, a beautiful young man who schools Joe on the art of psychologically dominating one’s “tricks” and gets him stoned on marijuana for the first time. It is very clear that Perry wants to fuck Joe — and that Joe is attracted to Perry but is confused and dishonest with himself as to how to handle that — and he eventually takes Joe to a Tex-Mex whorehouse to supposedly get Joe laid. While Joe is having spirited sex with an underage Mexican whore, he realizes that his efforts are being watched; the house’s madame, her fat, gay half-Indian son and Perry are the voyeurs, and they try to coax Joe into continuing, but a furious Joe attacks Perry, only to be pulled off of the hustler by the big gay Injun, at which point Joe is raped by both the fat guy and Perry. Needless to say, that fucked him up pretty bad, but he soon gets over it, more or less. The gang rape of Joe and Annie by rednecks as seen in the film is nowhere to be found in the book.
-Joe does not care whom he sex with, male or female, so the film’s questions about Joe’s sexuality are answered rather plainly; Joe isn’t really gay, bi or straight, he’s simply a fucking machine who has such a low opinion of himself that any sexual preference is moot. He’s merely a plug in search of a socket In the film when Joe gets it on with the character as played by Brenda Vaccarro, she does a little armchair analysis and intimates that Joe may be a “fag,” which cures him of a brief bout of impotence, but the sequence between them in the novel is nothing more than an extremely steamy sex scene, once Joe gets it up anyway…
So other than the information that you just read, the movie is about a 95% accurate novel-to-screen translation; if you’ve seen the movie there really is no reason to read the novel, a book that honestly has not aged too well. Oh, and the movie ends exactly as the book does, so the last we see of Joe is him sitting in the just-arrived-in-Florida bus cradling the corpse of Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo. Abrupt as fuck, and (for me anyway) an unresolved ending.