Girl by the Road at Night

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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, ...

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Girl by the Road at Night: A Novel of Vietnam

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rabe, widely known for his Vietnam plays (Sticks and Bones; etc.), delivers his first Vietnam novel, a competent addition to a very busy subgenre. Pfc. Joseph Whitaker is a draftee from Platteville, Wis., who hopes he will learn how to repair cars in the army. Quach Ngoc Lan is a prostitute whose often abusive clients are GIs. After Whitaker arrives in-country, he, like nearly every GI he meets, spends his free time getting drunk or stoned and looking for sex, which is how he runs into Lan. Rabe presents Lan with some caution—her interiority is murkier than Whitaker’s—as her feelings about Whitaker evolve and, in a haunting bit of foreshadowing, she’s visited by her uncle, who wants a photo of her to put on the family altar. How that photo falls into Whitaker’s hands, and what he does with it, is the plot’s cruel point of convergence. Although Rabe doesn’t add much to our understanding of Vietnam, this novel amply demonstrates the war’s relentlessly dehumanizing power. (June)
Library Journal
Taking as its background the Vietnamese national poem, "The Tale of Kieu," this, too, is the story of a beautiful woman who encounters misfortune in a time of crisis. Set during the Vietnam War, it involves Lan, an attractive prostitute, who meets Whitaker, an aimless and somewhat innocent American soldier who seems bewildered both by the complexities of civilian life and by the senselessness of the war. Drawn to her (as she is to him) for reasons that are never completely clear, he attempts to protect her from the advances of a pair of South Vietnamese soldiers, which leads to her eventual downfall. VERDICT Returning to the subject matter of his 1970s Vietnam War plays, Rabe presents, in some ways, a simple story encompassing a small number of scenes and elements, yet it's rich with underlying ironies and complexities. However, the characters' existential alienation puts the focus more on the brutality of their situation than on their humanity, and while that may be the point, it renders the novel less affecting than it might have been. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/10.]—Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, North Andover, MA
Kirkus Reviews
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
Philip Caputo
…[not] a war novel except in the loosest sense of the term. Rather, it's an erotic love story about two young people from opposite ends of the earth caught up in events far beyond their control. It's also 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. Above all, it's a modern tragedy in which the war, like the somber moors in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, becomes a metaphor for cruelty and injustice, for fate itself…In a brief afterword, Rabe suggests that he was partly inspired by "The Tale of Kieu," an early-19th-century epic poem by Vietnam's Shakespeare, Nguyen Du. The original title was "A New Cry From a Broken Heart," because Du wanted his poem to be a scream hurled against injustice and the harshness of fate, a scream to break the heart. Girl by the Road at Night is Rabe's cry, and it deserves to be heard.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439163337
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 6/1/2010
  • Pages: 228
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

DAVD RABE has been hailed as one of America’s greatest living playwrights. He is the author of many widely performed plays, including The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, Sticks and Bones, In the Boom Boom Room, Streamers, Hurlyburly, and The Dog Problem. Four of his plays have been nominated for the Tony Award, including one win for Best Play. He is the recipient of an Obie Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, Drama Desk Award, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, among others. His numerous screenwriting credits include I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can, Casualties of War, Hurlyburly, and The Firm.

Rabe is the critically acclaimed author of the novels Dinosaurs on the Roof and Recital of the Dog, and a collection of short stories, A Primitive Heart. Born in Dubuque, Iowa, Rabe lives with his family in Northwest Connecticut.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 4, 2010

    Beautiful, lyrical book

    Rabe, one of America's leading playwrights, brings his Vietnam experiences to bear upon this timely moving book about the horrors of war and the possibilities of love.

    Highly recommended.

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    Posted November 14, 2010

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