``Pettibone's Law,'' as gradually formulated in this mordantly funny first novel, states that whenever ``folly, perversity and misadventure'' can occur, they will. Keene deftly puts into motion several subplots that add up to a Vietnam War version of Catch-22 . While Keene doesn't yet have the subtlety of Heller, the ridiculousness of the military and the '60s are sharply and hilariously detailed. In addition to the protagonist, fighter-pilot Jack Rawlins, there is a colonel fighting a ``war within a war'' against South Vietnamese troops for a monastery he wants to use for an officers club. There also is Barbi Belheur, an activist/sing er who demands pay equity for Marxist mimes and makes a trip to Hanoi. There are self-immolating monks who are used to light a darkened runway. Meanwhile, Rawlins passes amiably through the war, dropping bombs from high above and never dreaming his acts will affect him later. When the reaction occurs, he takes refuge in alcohol and a stultifying defense-industry job, which provides the setting for some of the book's funniest moments. After some cliched musing on TV-as-artificial-reality, Rawlins finally reawakens. Although the ending is abrupt, and the book is almost ruined by a long declamation disguised as conversation, Pettibone's Law is a strong, complex debut that locates the tragic comedy found in all war. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1991 Release date: 01/01/1991 Genre: Fiction
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