+612 9045 4394
R&R : A Novel - Mark Dapin


Published: 29th July 2015
Ships: 5 to 9 business days
5 to 9 business days
RRP $32.99

eBook View Product

Published: 29th July 2015
Format: ePUB

'Dapin's writing is more than witty, tough, moving and highly original: it's explosive.' ROBERT DREWE

John 'Nashville' Grant is an American military policeman in the R&R town of Vung Tau, tucked safely behind the front lines of the Vietnam War. Nashville knows how everything works: the army, the enemy, bars, secrets, men and – at least in Vung Tau – women. He's keeping the peace by keeping his head down and making the most of it.

His new partner is a tall man from a small town: Shorty, from Bendigo. Shorty knows nothing about anything, and he wishes people would stop mistaking that for stupidity.

When another MP shoots a corpse in a brothel, the delicate balance between the military police, South Vietnamese gangsters and the Viet Cong is upset. Nashville and his partner are drawn into the heart of the matter by their violent colleague Sergeant Caution, the obsequious landlord Moreau, the improbable entrepreneur Izzy Berger and the mysterious, omnipotent Mamasan. Events begin to force the pair to uphold the law and perhaps – ultimately, unwillingly – to take it into their own hands.

Written with a brilliant, concise wit and brutal, uncompromising insight, R&R is a startlingly original portrait of men and war in the twilight zone behind the front, a searing study of the violence that we do to others, and ourselves.

Caroline Baum's Review

Blam! Author hits target with a bullseye.

Former magazine columnist Mark Dapin has become The War Guy (his military history The Nashos' War was widely acclaimed) and this novel confirms that status and a whole lot more. I'll admit when I came to this Vietnam War story about two Military Police - one a seen-it-all hard-drinking womanising American, and one a naïve but very tall Australian with reservations: I didn't fancy being immersed in that macho violent brutal crude world. But I was wrong, and knew it within the first twenty pages, which were bracingly alive with a heady mixture of bawdy humour and raw masculine energy.

Dapin writes with tremendous swagger (his style is a head-on collision of Steve Toltz and Joseph Heller). In Nashville and Shorty he's created two memorable characters: an unlikely couple defined by physical and psychological contrasts that suggest they may become enemies. Instead, the very opposite happens and the story of their growing effect on each other unfolds in scenes that are taut and explosive with occasional moments of gentler comedy that allow you to regroup before the next skirmish - there's a dinner seduction scene which Nashville orchestrates when Shorty takes his nurse girlfriend on a date that he pulls off with surprising delicacy (this is not a book full of subtlety) and good natured fun, creating an oasis of innocence in a narrative that is otherwise steeped in sleaze.

Rude, raw, crude, violent and shocking, this is as satisfying a mateship story as you could hope for if you like yours on the perverse end of the spectrum.

About the Author

Mark Dapin is the author of the novels King of the Cross and Spirit House. King of the Cross won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction, and Spirit House was long listed for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and shortlisted for the Age Book of the Year and the Royal Society for Literature's Ondaatje Prize. His recent work of military history, The Nashos' War, has been widely acclaimed. He is a PhD candidate at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

PRAISE FOR MARK DAPIN'S NOVELS: 'A little masterpiece of comedy and torment.' The Australian, 'Book of the Year' 'Every now and then you can run across a writer who does a little magic. They take something that almost everyone thinks they know something about, re-examine it from a completely unexpected direction and present the reader with a whole new take on their expectations ...Mark Dapin has pulled off a deeply human, but particularly Australian, bit of magic.' Courier-Mail 'Every other week, it seems, a fine new Australian novel is published. Few, however, can equal the vernacular flair, the originality of treatment of matters that we had thought overly familiar and the narrative drive of Mark Dapin's Spirit House ...Dapin is funny, poignant, vibrantly witty and his novel is a treat from its elegiac opening to its bitter, unexpected close.' Canberra Times 'A literary cocktail of rare originality. It is not hard to see why Mark Dapin's stylish novel, set in Nineties Sydney, was such a critical success in Australia. The writing has real freshness ...the story glides effortlessly from an intriguing start to a heart-warming resolution ...Dapin impresses with the understated authority of his storytelling.' Daily Telegraph, UK


Monsoon rain fell like bullets into the ground where Nguyen Van Tran lay, in a US Army PX box lightly buried under the buffalo-coloured soil. The afternoon storm bore deep into the hillside, digging at the earth that hid his casket from the clouds.

The tears of the river gods rinsed the nearby tomb of his ancestors, but the wind tore joss sticks from the burner, and scattered them among the myrtle. Nguyen Van Tran shuddered as the downpour worked his casket free of its pit. His stiff hands shook as the land collapsed and the PX box flowed with the torrent, along the path he had cut years before towards the town of Vung Tau.

Peaceless in death, he passed the spot where he had gouged the ground to bury a child. He shivered over the track where the guerrilla had said goodbye, with his knapsack, rice bag and Japanese rifle. In that same place, Nguyen Van Tran had first loved his wife, her silken ao dai like a blossomed parachute on the ground. Here, his casket rested, before a replenished gale blew it into the clearing where his guard dog had liked to shit.

Saturated, the earth crumpled, and Nguyen Van Tran moved on, drawn by disintegration to the lights of Vung Tau, retracing the journey he had made only two days previously, when the coffin maker had carried him in an ox cart to his grave.


At Le Boudin Restaurant and Bar at the foot of the dunes, the air was cigarette smoke and the smell of spent men. Bored girls played dice games and smiled like skulls while GIs pawed their breasts, hanging on to keep from falling. The girls pushed away their hands, then coaxed them back.

A fair-haired grunt named Croucher, whom the other guys called Boston, was drinking with his buddy Skokie at the table by the door. Skokie's hair was too long for the army, and he wore round glasses, as if his eyes had been closed with coins. Skokie and Boston had been in the bars since eight in the morning.

Boston wore a white fedora in Vung Tau, as he felt it made him attractive to whores. He thought Vietnamese women were pretty, painted witches, offering dark-eyed doll sex to drain his strength. He despised his need for them. But for Skokie, all women hid something beautiful. When he got back to Skokie, Illinois, he planned to drive a Stingray to Texas with an autumn girl he had seen in an advertisement for sun cream.

Skokie and Boston needed to be together. There were things they didn't want to say, which could only remain unsaid in each other's company. While they talked about Mailer and Hemingway, Ali and Terrell, Dylan and the Byrds, there was another silent conversation that drowned the braying music in the bar. Skokie couldn't stay in Vietnam. He was scared he was no good any more.

But Boston needed him, because if he thought about Skokie when they were wading through the rice paddies, he could close his mind to his own death. If he looked out for his buddy, he could stay calm. If Skokie were to disappear, the trembling that had begun in Boston's hands would quiver up his arms to his shoulders, down his spine to his legs, and shake him limb from limb.

So they argued about books, and said 'fugging' and 'fug' like Gallagher and Croft inThe Naked and the Dead, and each prayed he would not be the man to die like Hennessey before his character had fully developed.

Boston said Mailer didn't know if he was Papa or Dos Passos. What Boston meant was, We were both English majors and we will be again; listen to us, we can talk about anything. Even here.

They should have been sophomore students but they were drafted from the bottom of the class, because they drank when their buddies were studying, and dated when they might've worked. They never thought they would be called up, because anyone could see they weren't soldiers.

The PX-looted stereo played 'The Times They Are a-Changin', an angry Liberal Arts student singing down his nose.

Boston said Roger McGuinn made a better Dylan than Bob. He meant, I remember when we met at Fort Bragg. You were carrying a twelve-string guitar. Back home, we'll wear kaftans and flares and grow hair to our shoulders, and lie with the hippie chicks under maple trees in the park.
Boston said they were both short-timers; they only had months to go. He was pleading, Don't do what you are planning to do, because you'll do it to me as well.
A woman appeared. She was too old to be called a girl. Her movements were sharp like her features: practised, determined and resigned.
'My name Quyen,' she said. 'I love you both same time. You like that.'
It was as if she knew everything.
'Maybe later,' said Boston.
'May-be lay-tah,' she chirped, with a singsong smile and glassy contempt.
A smaller, younger woman, with lipstick the colour of hibiscus flowers and camera-shutter eyes, balanced beer on a tray.
'And her?' Skokie asked Quyen.
'Baby Marie no good,' said Quyen. 'She flop like a fish.'
Skokie imagined Baby Marie's lips sealing like gills, and her tail flicking on the bed as she drowned in the air.
Boston and Skokie lost their purpose, became their drunkenness. Their faces were slippery, untrusting and lost when they heard Nguyen Van Tran knock at the door of Le Boudin.
'Fuck was that?' asked Boston.
Skokie – lethargic now, and apathetic – stretched, and pulled open the bar door.
'PX box,' he said, peering into the storm. 'Just rolled down the hill.'
'Rolled from where?' asked Boston.
'PX, I guess,' said Skokie.
'PX isn't up the hill,' said Boston.
Skokie couldn't see how it made a bit of difference.
'What's inside?' asked Boston.
'Twinkies,' said Skokie. He was certain of that.
Skokie let his body slump onto the tabletop like a glove. Boston shoved him lightly, before he could sleep.
'You want to bring them in?' asked Boston.
All Skokie wanted was peace.

The two GIs stood under the awning outside the bar, trying to calculate how to take the lid off the PX box. It was nailed down, said Boston, to keep the Twinkies fresh.
Skokie used his pocketknife to prise the nails, while Boston patrolled the box, shaking his head. Together, they lifted the lid, and looked into the face of Nguyen Van Tran. Leaves of green tea flew around his eyes, like butterflies disturbed. Boston and Skokie hadn't expected to find a body, but they were unsurprised. In South Vietnam, they had seen corpses hanging from power lines, sunk in craters in the highway, floating down rivers, trapped in the mangroves and clogging deltas like silt.
Boston stooped to examine the old man. He was partly wrapped in gauze, like a patient who had fled the hospital. His face was long and drawn, with soft, silver hair. His eyes had been closed by the coffin maker, but his mouth had fallen open, as if in a scream.
'Looks like he needs a drink,' said Boston.
'Welcome to join us,' said Skokie.
Skokie and Boston pulled the body out of the casket. Rigor mortis had set his limbs in position. His arms were fixed tightly to his side and his hands crossed just below his waist. They could have carried him like a plank but Boston said it would be disrespectful, so they each grasped him by a shoulder and lifted him through the doorway. He smelled, but only a little, his death scent masked by the tea.
They tried to prop up Nguyen Van Tran, but he seemed to naturally lean backwards. Skokie struggled to support him with a chair, but the body collapsed at the left knee.
Boston felt around the dead man's patella. 'Leg's busted,' he said.
The tired lights of the bar threw fleeting blue shadows over the room. Their flickering made seated men dance. Even Nguyen Van Tran appeared to be moving, but Boston noticed he was undressed.
'Buddy needs this more than me,' said Boston, and dropped his fedora on Nguyen Van Tran's head. The hat slipped immediately over his eyes. Boston tried to adjust it so it would lodge above his brow, but the hat fell once more, leaving the brim sitting low, like a ring of Saturn.
'Be easier,' said Boston, 'if buddy had ears.'
Skokie lifted the hat and peered into a hole in Nguyen Van Tran's cranium, then reached around the head to feel an identical cavity on the other side. Skokie closed one eye, as if sighting a rifle, then squinted through the hole and tried to see Boston. The body crashed to the floor.
They picked him up and Boston said they should sit him down, but when they pushed Nguyen Van Tran into a seat at their table, his right leg refused to bend.
'We'll have to break that one too,' said Skokie.
They lifted Nguyen Van Tran again – by the shoulders, with dignity – and hauled him back out to the porch. They laid his body next to the box and Skokie raised a foot and stomped on his unbroken leg. Boston crouched low and sprang on the corpse, landing with both feet on the knee, but the old bones, armoured by contracted muscles, were slow to crack.
Boston wrenched a timber slat from the PX box, grasped it like a baseball bat, took an awkward practice swing, then brought it down on the corpse's knee, which crunched like a splitting joist. Boston swung again, and broke both the corpse's arms at the elbows. Now when they tried to move the body, it fell about like it was held together with string.
'Christ's sake,' said Boston.
A canvas banner advertising Ba Moui Ba beer made an awning for the bar. Boston cut it down and used the cable to loop around Nguyen Van Tran's torso to drag the body back inside. They would do this out in the field: tie an eight-foot rope to an arm or a leg to haul in a corpse, in case it was resting on a mine. They had enemies even among the dead.
Nguyen Van Tran's body shed a trail of skin and rags, and the tip of his nose scraped off on a sandy floorboard. Boston picked it up and slipped it in his pocket, with the notion he might stick it back on later.
The bar was filled with men who had learned to see nothing that didn't concern them. There were Australian officers among the GIs, and American salvage divers, even a couple of Germans from the hospital ship. They huddled among themselves, the girls surrounding them, squealing like sad records on a turntable, spinning too fast.
Boston and Skokie forced Nguyen Van Tran to sit down. Skokie tried to fix a Marlboro in his mouth, but it fell out. Boston broke the corpse's fingers – each one went with a gassy pop – and was able to lodge a cigarette between two of them, but it would not stay lit. Skokie ordered more beer, and moulded the dead man's free hand around an empty can.
'So, buddy,' said Boston to the corpse, 'what've you got to say for yourself?'
Skokie moved behind the body, his eyes shielded from Boston by the rim of the fedora.
'I feel like I'm losing my humanity,' he said.
For a second, Boston thought Nguyen Van Tran had spoken.
'Just hang in there,' said Boston.
'If I go now,' said Skokie, through the mouth of corpse, 'there might still be something of myself that I can save.'

Time in Le Boudin was counted not in minutes or hours, but rounds of drinks. Boston bought three beers, then Skokie stood three more. When it was Nguyen Van Tran's turn to pay for drinks, Boston and Skokie took two of his untouched cans for themselves.
'L'chaim,' toasted Skokie. To life.
The GIs drank more slowly now, clouded and confounded. Their words lost shape.
The bar door opened and a big man walked in, determined and unsteady, wearing the uniform of the United States Military Police. His face was shaven in patches, his eyes the colour of bourbon. He stood like a sailor struggling to find his land legs on the sandy bar- room floor, menacing and ignored.

The bar owner, Moreau, languidly alert beneath a grimy white kepi, whispered up his cowboys, the young thieves who watched the girls: Truong with his French switchblade, and Quôc the Deserter. They began to hide glass bottles and bowls.

The MP turned to the mirror behind the bar, and saw himself reflected beside the face of the corpse behind him, its mouth open wide.

'Are you mocking me, son?' asked the sergeant.

That was when Skokie got the idea of lifting the hat off the corpse's head.

Crouched behind the chair, Skokie took hold of the fedora and raised it by the brim, a voodoo baron welcoming the MP to the boneyard.

The MP screamed, drew his pistol and pointed the gun towards Skokie. His hand shook and the barrel juddered, but steadied as he took aim. Skokie and Boston scrambled under their table. The sergeant fired three shots into the body of Nguyen Van Tran. The bullets thumped holes through his chest, blowing rind from the bone.

The bar girls watched, silent and still, this new thing that was happening, which might affect them for better or for worse, or not at all.

The MP waited until the body had stopped quaking, then stepped carefully towards it, holding his pistol like a gunfighter. But his fingers ticked, and he couldn't master his face. His cheeks and lips pulsed insistently as he tried to drive his expression into a sheriff's cold stare.

He stood over Nguyen Van Tran, who had seen the spirit of his child leave its body, and a temple crumble and fall into the sea. The sergeant examined his bloodless wounds and cried out again, only this time it was more terrible.

The sergeant ran from the bar and into the night, where he joined the wailing souls of the dead, who wandered after curfew through the streets of Vung Tau.

ISBN: 9780670078202
ISBN-10: 0670078204
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 304
Published: 29th July 2015
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 23.2 x 15.9  x 2.2
Weight (kg): 0.38
Edition Number: 1