Excerpt: Catinat Boulevard by Caroline Vu

Caroline Vu is the author of numerous short stories and two novels: Palawan Story and That Summer in Provincetown. Both have been translated into French. Palawan Story won the 2016 Canadian Author Association’s Fred Kerner Prize. It was also shortlisted for QWF’s Concordia University First Book Prize in 2014. Her second novel, That Summer in Provincetown, was optioned for a film. Catinat Boulevard is Vu’s third novel.

The Game of Love and Death

Mother learned more about the war than she wished to know. Sparing no details, an American lover once described his guilt after dropping napalm on Vietnamese villages. He’d seen photos of his work—of homes on fire, of burned skin peeling off corpses, of swaths of deforested land. Yet those bombs also gave him a sense of power he never had back home. It was a power to decide people’s fate, a power to shape destiny. “It’s addictive,” he said. “Dropping bombs, it’s a fetish.” His obsession for pushing buttons so horrified Mother she put an end to their afternoon tryst. In the middle of love, she picked up her clothes and walked out the room.

American GIs were a dime a dozen. Replacement zucchinis were not hard to find. Prostitutes on Catinat Boulevard resented Mother for stealing their clients. They hated her spoiled attitude. Having sex for fun, not out of necessity. “You no pay. Just massage me,” Mother would say after each session. Her free sex drove those GIs wild. They thought of her as authentic. She was no “Hey Mister, 1000 dongs, I love you deep” girl. To these homesick soldiers, she was a true cross-cultural meeting of hearts, a real Vietnam experience worthy of many letters home.

Mother enjoyed her lovers’ bedroom gymnastics. Wrestling in air-conditioned rooms after a couple of diluted beers excited her. The alcohol also gave her strange ideas. She once asked a soldier to play dead as she went about preparing his body for burial. The washing, ointment, change of clothes—she wanted to go through that whole ritual. This warped game somehow titillated my mother. Her movements were exactly as she saw them on television. The prostrating bodies of mourners banging their arms and feet on the floor. The hands tearing at dishevelled hair, the open mouth dripping saliva, and the wailing—the incessant wailing. Like those bereaved wives on the daily news, Mother’s tears flowed and flowed. Perversely aroused, the American rushed to cover her with kisses. Tenderly he made love to her while she cried for the end of innocence. The games of love and death left my mother aching for a blade of grass to fill the gap in her life. With two fingers, she scooped up warm liquid dripping down her legs. Drop by drop she spread it on her tongue to better savour the fruit of life. It also left a bitter taste of sadness in her mouth.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Guernica Editions (Sept. 30 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 467 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771838272
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771838276