Girl by the Road at Night
Girl by the Road at Night
A Novel of Vietnam
By David Rabe
Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781439163337, 240pp.
Publication Date: June 1, 2010
David Rabe’s award-winning Vietnam plays have come to embody our collective fears, doubts, and tenuous grasp of a war that continues to haunt. Partially written upon his return from the war, Girl by the Road at Night is Rabe’s first work of fiction set in Vietnam—a spare and poetic narrative about a young soldier embarking on a tour of duty and the Vietnamese prostitute he meets in country.Private Joseph Whitaker, with Vietnam deployment papers in hand, spends his last free weekend in Washington, DC, drinking, attending a peace rally, and visiting an old girlfriend, now married. He observes his surroundings closely, attempting to find reason in an atmosphere of hysteria and protest, heightened by his own anger. When he arrives in Vietnam, he happens upon Lan, a local girl who submits nightly to the American GIs with a heartbreaking combination of decency and guile. Her family dispersed and her father dead, she longs for a time when life meant riding in water buffalo carts through rice fields with her brother. Whitaker’s chance encounter with Lan sparks an unexpected, almost unrecognized, visceral longing between two people searching for companionship and tenderness amid the chaos around them.In transformative prose, Rabe has created an atmosphere charged with exquisite poignancy and recreated the surreal netherworld of Vietnam in wartime with unforgettable urgency and grace. Girl by the Road at Night is a brilliant meditation on disillusionment, sexuality, and masculinity, and one of Rabe’s finest works to date.
“[A]n erotic love story about two young people from opposite ends of the earth caught up in events far beyond their control….a meditation on the devastating effects armed conflict has on society, and on the psychological and emotional toll it exacts from soldiers and civilians alike….darkly comic…Rabe’s portrait is multidimensional and engaging…he reveals himself to be as gifted a novelist as he is a playwright….Girl by the Road at Night is Rabe’s cry, and it deserves to be heard.” —Philip Caputo, The New York Times Book Review
“A real piece of art, David Rabe’s skillful, mature Girl by the Road at Night tracks the deep interplay of sex and violence in two lives, in two cultures, and in the human urge towards deliverance. With rich supportive images of cosmetics and pajamas, and insects, rats and snakes, it elicits both tender and reptile emotions. It’s a story of American-style innocence gaining a slice of redemption at a huge price. Don’t hesitate to read it.” —Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and Writing in the Sand
“Nobody writes like David Rabe. Nobody. He has a supernatural ability to tap into the hardwiring of his characters and render their impulses in language that is at once startlingly precise and dreamily off the wall. Rabe's vision of Vietnam, from his great early plays to this strange, dark rapturous sort-of love story, has a tragic consistency: the beveled innocence of the young American soldier meeting an incomprehensible Otherness that can't be turned away from or forgotten. I loved Girl by the Road at Night, and I can't wait to read it again.” —Anthony Giardina, author of White Guys
“By turns intimate, brutal, and mordant, Girl by the Road at Night illuminates the confusion of one raw youth as he confronts the larger confusions of war.” —Stewart O'Nan, author of The Names of the Dead
“Rabe never romanticizes his characters. This is no Romeo-and-Juliet story of unrequited love and desire. Instead, Whitaker and Lan play out their roles in both tender and brutal ways. A powerful statement about sex, war and identity.” —Kirkus