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Midnight Cowboy [Paperback]

James Leo Herlihy
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 4 2003
The classic American novel that was the source for the Oscar-winning film starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, now back in print from Scribner. Joe Buck, a good-looking, naively charming Texas 'cowboy' who's convinced that he's the salvation of many love-starved New York women, makes his way to the Big Apple to seek his fortune. Trouble is, his well-to-do clientele never materialises and the only wealth he finds is in the friendship of Ratso Rizzo, a scrounging, sleazy, small-time con man with big dreams. Living on the tattered fringe of society, these two outcasts develop an unlikely bond - one that transcends their broken dreams and get-rich-quick schemes and makes MIDNIGHT COWBOY that rarest of things...every bit as moving now as it was when it was first published. MIDNIGHT COWBOY is the powerful and unforgettable novel of the compelling need of human beings for one another.

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About the Author

James Leo Herlihy was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1927. His first novel ALL FALL DOWN was published in 1960, and 1965 saw the appearance of MIDNIGHT COWBOY. Herlihy's lasting fame is based on the popularity of the book and the movie that was based on the novel. He died in 1993.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This would be the one. May 16 2004
By Regnal
If I were sent to solitary confinement, and allowed to take only one fiction text with me, I would take this book without hesitation. This funny, sad, and philosophical masterpiece will never tire me. It shows exceptionally clear, how our life rests on probabilities of occurring events in surrounding us chaos.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By far the best book I have read in a long time! Dec 31 2002
By A Customer
I couldn't put it down, simply breathtaking!
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  43 reviews
89 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far better than the film Jan. 18 2000
By Tyler Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's hard to understand why this '60s gem has become a difficult find. The film, a watered-down version saved by a great Dustin Hoffman performance, has certainly not been forgotten. Yet few people seem to have sought out the original work.
This is a shame because the novel is much more satisfying than the one-note film. The background of the guileless main character, Joe Buck (first cousin to "Being There"'s Chance) is brought out in a series of mysterious incidents that put his fateful trip to New York into perspective.
The book also benefits from a narrative voice that ranges from flat objectivity to the wise and knowing tone of a fable teller. This voice also manages to capture the benign anonymity of big-city life. Against this backdrop, we see Joe Buck wander in search of a truth he can not name.
His destiny arrives in the person of a street urchin/criminal, Enrico Salvatore (Ratso) Rizzo. Those who have not read the book but have seen the film will be surprised that Herlihy's character is a boy -- though of course street-hardened beyond his years. This detail hardly detracts from Hoffman's performance in the film. Yet in the book it lends a poignancy to the character and his tragedy that the movie didn't capture.
Post-modernists may be impatient with the streaks of '60s idealism that run through the book. For me, the book strikes just the right tone for our age: violence is juxtaposed with life-affirming ideals in the novel's summation.
A neglected minor classic; highly recommended.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful sketch of lives lived beneath the radar of society July 29 2004
By santa monica reader - Published on Amazon.com
Our pop culture offers us numerous, superficial views of lives lived like sit-coms or melodramas, clothed in Gap attire, well-groomed and comfortably normal. Here is a compassionate story of friendship among two fringe dwellers, ugly on the surface, and whom few would deign to look at in passing on the street. Joe Buck is a young, dumb narcissist who believes he can take New York by storm as a stud sought after by rich, lonely high-society women. His backstory comprises the first third of the book, a prosaic telling of an unwanted, unexceptional child whose only caretaker is a preening, whorish beautician who may or not be his mother or grandmother. Loneliness, neglect and some brutal encounters leave Joe to fantasize about finding his place elsewhere. He comes to New York. Once there, his consciousness about the world and his place in it dawn on him with painful awareness; his prized leather jacket becomes stained, his boots begin to smell, he bathes in public toilets and catches glimpses of himself in store windows which shock and depress him. Just as his very survival becomes in doubt he meets a city-bred troll aptly nicknamed, Ratso. Through all Joe's encounters with duplicitous street preachers, suburban molesters and, comically, neurotic New York women, his only bond and loyalty come incongruously to be shared with Ratso, left homeless by the tragedies of his own childhood. The redemption which comes at the end for both of them, is dark, bitter and grim, and yet it comes as a result of the moral choices which these two outcasts make in a world that is otherwise brutally immoral.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beatitude for the lonesome Oct. 2 2012
By Aletheia Knights - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'll admit I was a bit skeptical when I picked up James Leo Herlihy's "Midnight Cowboy." All I knew about it was that it was about a male prostitute and it was made into an X-rated movie (a publicity stunt, really; the movie was initially offered the R rating, and later re-released under the R rating). The back cover copy didn't impress me much: "Here comes Joe Buck, six-foot-one of eager erotic muscle and rarin' for action . . . Midnight cowboy, midnight son of three blonde tarts, white midnight stud. Midnight salesman, selling wares to whores, love to the unlovable, sex to the sexless, eternal youth to the old." I expected a guilty pleasure at best, the sort of thing one simply can't put down as long as it lasts, but which leaves one afterward feeling as if one had been wallowing in a mud pit.

Instead, I found myself wallowing in Herlihy's literary and psychological genius.

Joe Buck is twenty-seven years old when he leaves Houston for New York. His life so far has been nothing special - one abandonment and betrayal after another. Joe has never really felt a sense of connection to anyone, except one of his grandmother's ex-boyfriends, a rancher named Woodsy Niles who imparted to him a fascination with all things Western. The one thing he's got going for him is his body: he's tall, handsome, and great in the sack. In New York, he's been told, most of the men are homosexual, and the women are terribly lonely. They'd pay good money to spend just one night with a real man . . . a man like Joe. Dressed in a swanky cowboy outfit that took him several months to buy on the meager salary from his dishwashing job, Joe gets on the bus, visions of his glamorous future dancing in his head.

We've all heard the stories of the naive young thing trying to make it big in the big city, turning to prostitution just to survive. Joe Buck comes to New York aspiring to a life of prostitution - and yet, like so many other naive young things, Joe is destined to see his dreams smacked down by harsh realities. His first "client" manipulates him into giving HER money. A new acquaintance whom Joe pays to introduce him to an influential pimp delivers him instead to a holy-rolling street preacher and takes off with the cash. Even when Joe reluctantly gives up on his imagined rich-lady clientele and starts trying to catch the shameful glances of cruising males, he can't bring in enough money to keep a roof over his head.

James Leo Herlihy is one of those writers with the rare gift of writing honestly about squalid, sordid things and bringing forth something of wisdom and great beauty. His fluent, lyrical prose does nothing to gloss over reality; instead, it scoops up great big handfuls of reality as only the most solid writing can, and flings them right into the back of your skull. You'll love Joe Buck, and you'll hate him, and you'll cheer him on, and you'll want to slap the stupid out of him, but most of all, for 200 pages, you will become him. You'll feel the fire, the disappointment, the hunger, and - most of all - the alienation. For alienation, loneliness, is Herlihy's great theme here. Everyone in this novel is lonely, an island in a sea of islands, drawn toward each other in desperate need yet never able to touch. There's a good deal of sex in this novel, but it's all selfish, grasping, impersonal; it fails every time to fill the emptiness and instead becomes a weapon, an expenditure of frustration, an amplitude of alienation in a sham of intimacy. Having never quite felt at home among human beings, I've been writing about loneliness, and seeing myself in lonely characters, as far back as I can remember, but I've never read anything like this: "He didn't know what it was based on, but there seemed to be something about him that no one wanted to be kin to. This feeling, always just below the surface, was one of many he did not know how to consider in his mind: the feeling of being a person with no real place in this world, an alien even under the red-white-and-blue of his birth, one who did not belong even in his own neighborhood. He had gone about always, even in these most familiar places of his life, with a slight frown of uneasiness, his head cocked for some clue to the true meaning of the language he heard spoken but which was clearly not his own, walking softly as if unsure of the very ground of this peculiar planet." Indeed, Herlihy has an uncanny ability to articulate the sort of things we don't quite know how to consider in our minds. In Joe Buck, he has come as close to fashioning a living, breathing human being out of paper and ink as any writer ever has.

"Midnight Cowboy" is a short, yet surprisingly hard-hitting novel that isn't for the squeamish or the overly sensitive. It is grueling, it is painful, it is deceptively complex, it is challenging, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. They say it's true that you never really know a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes; well, Herlihy gives us the chance to travel all the way across the country in Joe Buck's cowboy boots - and sure enough, we come away richer for the journey.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars haunting July 11 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
I have just re-read Midnight Cowboy after reading it for the first time back in 1969, when the movie came out. I was startled once again by the gritty, desperate telling of Joe Buck's story. Joe is a complete loser, incredibly stupid, and seems to have no dignity. If anything, he becomes even more of an invisible non-person once he hits 42nd St. Things change when he pairs up with Ratso, a crippled swindler who is, perhaps, even more of a loser than Joe is. Together they form a team and a partnership, and for the first time, Joe is happy. Through their unlikely friendship, Joe finally has a center, and gains some limited insight into his true nature. The ending, though sad, somehow left me with a weird hope that Joe manages to make a life for himself after Ratso. I find myself wondering what happened to Joe- did he marry? have children? I look at Jon Voight 30 years after the landmark film, and imagine that he is still Joe Buck- weathered, aged, wiser, and maybe even content.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revisiting Joe Buck Oct. 28 2009
By Null Mann - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
If you think that seeing the classic film is enough, please think again. The novel reveals dimensions of "cowboy" Joe Buck's personality and experience of the world that would be difficult to fully express on film. Read part one of the novel, pause reading, then watch or re-watch the film and you'll experience Joe in a whole new way. Continue reading afterward and you'll experience Joe and Ratso's friendship more profoundly.

Midnight Cowboy is one of those rare and wonderful instances in which novel and film are on artistic par.
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