Girl by the Road at Night
In Girl by the Road at Night, two unlikely souls come together for a short time, simply because they both need the connection so badly. Whitaker is a new arrival to the Vietnam War, angry and confused by his last girlfriend’s rejection, terrified that he will die during the war, and unable to express his emotions. Lan is a prostitute, a former farmer’s daughter, surviving in the only way left to her while watching her country explode. They are fascinated by the differences in each other. Whitaker describes Lan, “She’s a complete fucking mystery, like the weather in some far-off part of the world changing the weather where he is.”
Their time together—so short and commercially-based it can’t really be called a relationship—is not particularly tender. This is a love story in which love is never mentioned. As a novelist and playwright, David Rabe doesn’t tell pretty stories. He does, however, convincingly evoke a violent and surreal world in which no one really seems to be in charge. There are plenty of ways to die in Vietnam, from sniper fire to a snake in the latrine, and readers are left with the impression that death waits around every corner.
Lan and Whitaker are terribly flawed people, tempered by the anarchy around them. Lan is jealous and manipulative, thrilled when she can make Whitaker buy her things, and Whitaker is mostly dead inside. He performs one act of decency, rescuing Lan from unwanted clients, but instead of saving her, his noble gesture dooms her. Lan’s story is sad and grisly, and Whitaker himself never understands it.