Mike Spence and his wife have hit a wall, his few years as a published novelist relinquished to employment with the Chicago PD, Mike declaring, “I won’t let some damn dream keep humiliating me.” His work informed by his experiences in Viet Nam, Mike has written of what he knows, speaking the truth of men no one listens to any more, soldiers who returned to a country exhausted by loss and defeat.
Still, Viet Nam follows him like a dark cloud, his worldview forever altered, daily life in Chicago oddly juxtaposed with an unresolved past. Alone now, Mike seeks solace in exercise, running each night after his shift, ruminating occasionally on the Vietnamese woman who lives across from his apartment, a woman he and Susan have watched together. Annie sees Mike in the rain-soaked dark and recognizes him, a lonely man with a compartmentalized life.
Another Viet Nam vet drives the streets of Chicago: Donald Goetzler, who spent his time in-country policing brother soldiers, his small stature and thick glasses relegating him to the role of investigator, the brunt of jokes. Goetzler carries psychic scars as well, Viet Nam a constant companion in his years with a corporation, newly retired, spending his money on expensive hours with Annie, a prostitute who recognizes his wounds.
Annie is the third part of an enigmatic triangle, a boat person who arrived in America only to sell herself for security, living among the round-eyes who carry the guilt of that war, clients like Goetzler vaguely hoping for understanding and absolution. It is not in Annie’s power to forgive, her heart sheathed in ice as protection from a harrowing childhood and treacherous journey across the ocean, sharks surrounding the frail craft anticipating opportunity.
When a prominent attorney is found dead, a photograph from Viet Nam by his side, Spence recognizes the message. It is an angry voice crying out for the forgotten, the invisible men, whose service is now layered with a country’s shame and loss of face, noble men discounted by a blind society clamoring for the future.
This country on the cusp of another conflict, Iraq, one of Mike’s old war buddies counsels him, encouraging a break with his memories, “You have to realize the inevitability of things or you’ll never move on.” Spence isn’t ready to move on, at least not yet, realizing Annie is the link to an outsider trying to make a point no one will acknowledge.
It is Annie who holds the key, the power, at least to one of these troubled men, her cruelty and cunning honed by years of survival in a different jungle than her childhood, but a jungle nonetheless. Vengeance lurks while Annie manipulates events, although her carefully orchestrated rage can only control the willing.
In the end, the ravages of war settle into broken lives, each member of the triangle left to articulate a difficult future. Through Mike Spence, who claims he can only write of Viet Nam, the author reveals the depth and pain of those stories. The poetic prose of a complex tale creates fractured images, blink-quick images that fade to black, the wet of constant rain a reminder of jungles and tears, of brokenness and loss, Because the Rain an important, evocative novel.