Lonely GI in meets a signorina who's available…or is she? This superb short novel, a reissue originally published in 1949, is by unjustly neglected American poet, novelist and screenwriter Hayes (1911-1985). Rome, December 1944. The Allies have liberated the city, yet the war drags on.
Rome is cold, its people destitute, the bitterness of defeat palpable. Only the sex trade is thriving, as soldiers stand in line for a whore. On the Via Flaminia, the middle-aged Signora Adele Pulcini cooks for the soldiers in her large flat. Sometimes she may hook up a soldier with a whore, discreetly, for hers is a respectable family; she is hard but not unkind. A young friend, Nina, has snagged an American captain. A shrewd operator, Nina has also arranged for another friend, Lisa (the "girl" of the title), to stay in the flat with Robert, an American private; they will pose as a married couple. "I can't make love to a stranger," says the bashful Lisa, an attractive blonde, but what choice does she have? Her family is in
Genoa and she has no job skills. "I was lonely, you were hungry," Robert says later. It should have been so simple, yet no sparks fly in their ice-cold bed, for he is as honest and scrupulous as Lisa. His difficult courtship is inseparable from the big picture of victor and vanquished. The Hemingway influence is clear, but Hayes is his own man, a master of irony and ambiguity. The cake Robert presses on Lisa could be a down payment, a peace offering, or both. A strained situation becomes impossible when Italian cops come to the flat on unrelated business and ask for the marriage documents. Lisa is taken before a magistrate and humiliated by a medical examination, yet there is hope too as the chivalrous Robert stands by her. Could this ordeal set love ablaze? Hayes keeps us guessing to the end. An enthralling narrative, and art of a high order.