STANDING ORDERS by John Hooker

STANDING ORDERS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Gripping scenes of combat form the tough core of Hooker's (Jacob's Story, The Bush Soldiers) otherwise slack, contrived novel about a lonesome Australian's bittersweet induction into human sharing. Straining for a symmetry he never achieves, Hooker divides his narrative into three parts; with events in the first and last sections, set in Australia, attempting to mirror each other and to find their link in the harrowing Korean War battles of the powerful middle. The novel opens with young David Andersen--only child of a well-to-do, unfaithful farmer father and a bored housewife mother--seeking escape from his parents' squabbles in the dreamy world of boys' adventure novels. Sent to boarding school, David finds not the companionship that Hooker has drummed home as his primary need, but a pseudo-military setting in which he hones his loner's survival skills. Then, without transition, Hooker abruptly propels the story to 1951 Korea, thrusting David into a terrifying inferno of agony and death. In the pressure-cooker of this hell, David's shell finally cracks as he befriends a bright young English officer; together they undergo capture, interrogation (by the novel's most intriguing character, a half-mad Korean officer who fancies himself a paragon of civilization even as he tortures the two), and escape and flight to Seoul. Then another abrupt jump, to postwar Australia, where David philanders (as did his father early on) and falls in love, only to be slain by the rough man his father employs to kill rabbits and other pests that threaten the order of the land. Burdened by its symbolism, bracketed by its formalism, Hooker's often elegaic writing suffocates under its author's ambition: a sadly overwrought offering.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1987
Publisher: Viking