Girl by the Road at Night: A Novel of Vietnam by David Rabe
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.