From the Publisher
“[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
The lives of an American GI and a Vietnamese prostitute briefly intersect in the early years of the Vietnam war. Known primarily as a playwright, Rabe (Dinosaurs on the Roof, 2009, etc.) delivers his first Vietnam novel. When Pfc. Whitaker, assigned to Fort Meade, receives his orders to ship out for Vietnam, his life starts to border on the surreal. He gets drunk, wanders the streets of D.C. and attends an antiwar rally. Meanwhile, in Vietnam, Quach Ngoc Lan lives something of a parallel life, selling her body to help support her family and, for the moment, blissfully ignorant of the impending arrival of Whitaker. For the first half of the novel, Rabe writes antiphonal chapters, weaving two separate narratives that help introduce us to his two main characters, whose lives are defined only by their separation. Each is obsessed with sex, Whitaker as an escape from facing what he feels might be his impending death, and Lan as a means to an end. When Whitaker finally arrives in Vietnam, it's fated that his path should cross with that of Lan. He becomes smitten both with her beauty and her sexual skill. She, too, finds Whitaker different from her other encounters with American GIs, more vulnerable-more tender and more enigmatic. Rabe's Vietnamese characters tend to speak a pidgin poetry that at times can verge on the incomprehensible: "No babysan can come. Numba ten. Beg money. Not nice. Other GI no like boucoup babysan talk GI-him eating-?Gimme money, gimme money.' Numba ten." 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. Agent: Deborah Schneider/Gelfman Schneider
Read an Excerpt
Consider, first of all, that Pfc Whitaker awakes in his Fort Meade, Maryland, barracks in the early morning, sweating. He stares through unshifting, dust-speckled air and sees beams of rough-hewn wood. Looking at their splintering surfaces and thinking of the long, barren days ahead, the hours of his final weekend of freedom in which he has nothing to do, he feels sad. He feels like a man who’s been ordered to leave the earth, his destination the moon. He must live in Vietnam for a year.
In the latrine he flushes a bug down the toilet and his mood is reflected in the insect’s futile flailing. The flood and dark of the drain take it away. He wonders, Does it scream?
Now he paces slowly in the hall and Sharon is only a feeble flickering in some small corner of his brain. He does not really see her perfect legs and hard, creamy little tits. She is unremembered. He sees his moving feet on the floor. He does not see her black hair that lay stuck in sweat to her lips. She spoke of Wall Street, of the stock market, as if she understood what she was saying. He does not remember her hot buttocks burning in his hands. She sucked blood from his throat, coming. Pacing, he crosses his arms. He does not remember. His genitals stir, his prick nearly grows.
He is thinking of going to Washington, D.C. There is to be a peace march, he’s heard. A protest against this war. I will protest, he thinks, knowing he lies, though he has a truckload of urges and reasons. He will see the monuments to Lincoln and George Washington. He will see the crowds. He will go to the Washington Monument and look up its long, thin length. He feels the edges and tentacles of other thoughts stirring. He shuts them out. He showers and dresses in wrinkled clothing, yet he places a carefully folded tie in his pocket and he buffs his already shiny shoes.
Crossing to his footlocker, he rummages among papers and socks. There are those on post who say a man is a fool to go to Vietnam. Not many, but some, their voices smug, bitter, secretive. It makes him ache to hear them. In a blind, unspeakable wish for denial, he listens. Is it to hear more today that he is going to travel? Is it to risk hearing, finally, a word, theory, fact, or statistic that will make him believe? Does he hope to believe? Or is it to prove them foolish, to prove by being among them a full day and finding nothing in all their placards, slogans, and cries, that there is in fact nothing there to find?
From his locker, he takes a copy of his orders, which he folds precisely to fit his pocket as he moves toward the door.
Only those men on KP, CQ, or guard are in the company area—all others having departed on passes at the end of the Friday workday—so he sees no one as he crosses the small space of worn grass between the barracks and the white, shedlike headquarters building. He opens the frayed and patched screen door. Thornberg, the CQ, is tilted and twitching in uneasy sleep at the desk, an open comic book teetering on his limp hands. Whitaker stands a moment, thinking. Then he takes his pass from its slot in the green rectangular pass book before adding his name and time of departure to the long list of other names and times already scribbled onto the blocks of the sign-out sheet. He tiptoes out into the white wind. He puts the card of his pass in his billfold and shoves his billfold deep into his right-hip pocket.
Far up the gray road, past the few trees, a bright green bench stands beneath a faded bus stop sign. He makes a fist with each hand, and thumps his chest. He begins to jog.
© 2010 David Rabe