Commentary on “The Sound of Love”
I wrote “The Sound of Love” toward the beginning of a project that grew into my recently completed 76,000-word manuscript, Perfume River: A Novel-in-Stories of Love and War. As a grunt in the 101st Airborne Division in 1970-71, I had no direct contact with the hundreds of young women and guys employed by the USO and Special Services to entertain US troops, mainly in safe rear areas. But I saw a couple of shows and wondered what it was like to be an American woman in Vietnam. Besides these performers, there were also nurses, Red Cross “Donut Dollies” (a demeaning term but not considered so back then) and a handful of servicewomen in Saigon. Female journalists—reporters and photographers—often got closer to the fighting than rear-echelon troops.
All these women were largely neglected in accounts of the war during the two decades after the final American withdrawal in 1975. But later they began to reach out to each other online and to write about their experiences. Reading about them, I became interested in their perspectives—usually, in some respects, quite different from masculine perspectives. They weren’t feminists and yet were impelled by military patriarchy to question some aspects of the war. Entertainers had less education than journalists—for instance, my protagonist, Maria Stellato—but intuited, without always being able to articulate their feelings well, the weirdness of being “the second sex” in the war. Thus Maria and her band mates sympathize with their gay male lead singer, Bobby, in a way that few soldiers during this era would have done. “The Sound of Love” evokes the vulnerability of these working-class characters amidst the gendered binary oppositions of what the Vietnamese called the American War.
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Jim Fairhall teaches modern literature and environmental studies at DePaul University in Chicago. His publications include award-winning works of scholarship, fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. He has just completed Perfume River: A Novel in Stories of Love and War. Four of the stories have won national awards, including the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Award for Fiction.