Blacktop, No Map by Roy Eisenstein

I read Roy Eisenstein’s novella, Blacktop, No Map (Amazon Digital Services, 47 pp, $4.99, Kindle), on my Kindle in one sitting. The author served with the 1st Signal Brigade in 1968-69; his main character is a Vietnam veteran who has PTSD.

The plot of this “on the road” story is that the main character is driving from the West Coast to return to the city of his origin, New York City. His companion is a young woman who would go anywhere with him under any circumstances. If I made this into a movie, I would cast Humphrey Bogart and the young Lauren Bacall in the main roles.

The couple uses a variety of cheap cars since they keep breaking down. They stay in a string of cheap motels and eat in cheap roadside restaurants. In one of these dives our hero gets into a knock-down, drag-out fight with “a pinhead who has a hair up his ass.”  The hero wins the fight, but only barely. He is beaten badly enough that the young woman has to drive for a while.

Roy Eisenstein

The writing in this breathless amalgam of a road novella and film noire script is fun to read. I’ll bet it was fun to write, too.

When his car blows a front tire, “the banging rhythm reminds me of Huey Cobras coming in to evac us from a firefight in the bush where life was so goddamn cheap.”

Eisenstein offers up such expressions as “a world gone mad,” “shallow lakes of love,” night road towards forever,” “morning comes up hot and angry,” and “Kamikaze insects explode on the windshield in Jackson Pollack-Rorshach sacrifices.”  This is just a small sample of the language in the book. I enjoyed them in the spirit they were offered.

The novella is sprinkled with references to the Vietnam War. They all passed muster. Some that stood out: “I woke up from another night in the rice paddies,”  “the damp rice paddies of my soul.”  Also: “a guy named Hank who has a VC scar and a platoon of dead brothers.”

No false notes in this book tarnished the relentless forward thrust of the narrative, and I enjoyed it mightily. I highly recommend this story to those who want to enjoy an afternoon in the sunshine with a cold drink, reading something to take their mind off their troubles and propel them into a world with a tough but sensitive hero and a beautiful younger woman who adores him and asks no questions about where they are bound and why.

I’ve been there; I totally get the appeal of such a story.

—David Willson