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Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

by Joseph Heller
463 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Historical

Um, WTF?

This was funny--not as funny as Pratchett, not even close, but still good for a few chortles. Still, I didn't get it. I kept waiting for the book to have a point, until I reached the last page and still didn't get it. I thought it was funny, even laugh-out-loud funny at times; but not hilarious or even uniformly entertaining. A novel can't sustain itself on humor alone, and the only other impetus driving me to turn the pages was an objective curiosity in what-happens-next. Now that I know what happens next, and am not impressed, I've lost all impetus. The ending left me confused and dissatisfied.

That said, for experimental fiction Catch-22 is immensely approachable. And several of my friends adore this book. The plot: Yossarian, a bombadier in presumably alter-world WWII, has lost his nerve. And he's even flown the required 45 missions--if he were in any other squadron but Colonel Cathcart's, he would have long been safely home. (SPOILER) So, after 450+ pages of random (often funny, but still bizarrely random) storyline, Yossarian decides to follow his good buddy Orr to Sweden. --That, seriously, is the entire plot of the novel. The events in between are largely irrelevant and never stuck in my mind, save for the unimportant details like Milo's complicated egg-market scheme in Malta (which I still don't quite understand).

And that's all I got, folks. Maybe you'll make more sense out of the catch.


Said friends who loved it can't explain WHY they love it--just that they do. So I guess it's a love/hate thing.
I think the randomness/surrealism is deliberate here. A more plotty plot would have undermined what Heller was trying to point out about the random and/or surreal nature of military service (or modern life itself).
Oh yes, I'm sure Heller meant the structure intentionally--and as an experimental novel, I think this succeeds--but the style didn't work for me as experimental novels tend not to. (HOUSE OF LEAVES is on my TBR shortlist, so we'll see how that goes.)
If it helps, the chapters (and some scenes, I think) are not in chronological order, which makes it extremely hard to follow on the first time through. Which is why you should read it again ;)
If a book is does not fundamentally work on the first read, then it's not a good book (for me). Even Shakespeare, Chaucer, Rushdie (see my review of THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE) all offer a basic plot or emotional payoff on the surface. I got to the end of CATCH-22... and I still didn't care.

January 2011



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