Kelly's Reviews > Catch-22

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
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's review
Aug 06, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, 20th-century-postwar-to-late, great-and-terrible-men
Read in August, 2008

My relationship with this book was somewhat quixotic. The first few chapters made me smile- in a bitter, ironic, wise-at-life sort of way of course. I loved the cleverness and deceptive punch-you-in-the-side way that Heller made his points, wrapped up in the whirling, hilariously awful world that he's created in depicting a tired, worn out unit towards the end of WWII in Italy. The choice of the main character in the bombardier Yossarian, a man who saw one too many horrors, is perfect. His questioning, questionable state of mind is perfect to depict all the contradictions, paradoxes, hidden, buried ideas that nobody wants to talk about during a war, and the sheer absurdism of the life soldiers lived, even in our "good war" of the 20th century. One understands Heller's rage at the blind torpor of a society that prefers to be lead and blame someone else for what happens. This particular unit is under special strain, as their commander orders them to fly more combat missions than any other unit, and then continually raises the number each time his men see a glimpse of their time to go home. The endless, senseless, everyday cruelty inflicted both on their surroundings and on each other slowly grinds the unit's minds and bodies into dust.

I almost wonder if when this was published, Heller was afraid that his audience would be inclined to put this book down as quickly as possible. It was one of my issues with the book that he seemed to throw out all his major questions, issues, wild emotions and ultimate points within the first few chapters, so that for awhile afterwards, it did all seem very monotonously repetitive, as we saw more and more ways of saying exactly the same thing in pretty near exactly the same formula. Perhaps absurdism is merely more effective in short form, as there was a period of the book where I was rolling my eyes and seeing shades of Catcher in the Rye's blind "Fuck the man!" screaming enough to only grudgingly read on. I understand that it may have been part of his point to illustrate that the absurdism of war does go on and on and on, but it did become something of a chore to read in the middle. Deceptively light comedy can't go on like that without at least hints at some deeper pathos that we don't have to assume is there. Also, the attitude that Heller is espousing, and the earnest questions he asks do feel somewhat dated. Not their message, of course. That is universal. Questioning authority, the value of life, the cost of war, the meaning of country and honor and duty, etc. But there is a phrasing that places it firmly in its time, which does seperate you from it a bit. I also found it all somewhat bleak and cold in tone, and not in a way that I wanted to spend time with at all. This middle section would be the reason that it took me so long to finish this book.

However. After I passed the halfway mark, my opinion improved once more. The character drawing, while still absurd enough to bring a wry smile to my face, was poignant enough that I started to get more involved. I needed to see layers. I needed to see the inner roiling turmoil, I needed to see the thoughts of these desperate men as they went about their tragically ridiculous lives, and see what it was that made them survive, or finally give up. It also helped that we saw more to Yossarian to make him a fully fledged person, rather than merely a conduit for the major points of the book. Perhaps I'm not saying this correctly, but while I can react critically to a character who is presented as a symbol, I can't be truly drawn to reading more about them unless I'm presented with more to see. In any case, I thought the last half intermittently, and particularly the last hundred and fifty pages or so were absolutely heartbreaking. In the end, Heller does make you both grieve and rejoice, and the story fulfills the promise of what I had hoped that it would be after its manically brilliant introduction.

All in all, it is a novel absolutely worth its "classic," name. It is worth reading to remind you of the many different perspectives that are available on an issue, to think critically about even concepts that you've never had to question before. Nothing is given. It is always worthwhile to be reminded of that.

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03/21/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-12)

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message 12: by Jude (new)

Jude go kelly go! this novel was so essential to the core of friends i had in college that we took casting of the movie personally - and phrases from it peppered our conversations.

to this day there are moments when i say "oh well, what the hell, said McWatt. --- ---- ---- - --------."


Kelly Yes, its very good so far. Very funny. Not usually my kind of thing, but I can definitely appreciate how well worked and twistedly amusing it is.

message 10: by Jude (new)

Jude well i'm glad it isn't turning out to be a penance-done-for-love at least. some of the casting was pretty random, but giving us Alan Arkin as Yossarian actually did good things to later readings of the book for me.

...tangentially - i just watched MASH the movie again, and the sexism - historically accurate as i'm sure it is - kinda dates it almost beyond recall. ( well, except for the young Donald Sutherland's Hawkeye whistle. I had forgotten it & it's still a treat.

anyway - i am thinking mebbe Catch-22 the movie may have aged better. sorta apples & oranges given the vast ambitions of Catch, and the truly sit-com pilot feel of MASH. but i think i'm gonna go see. Mebbe all that will happen is wishing Altman had done Catch?

Kelly I haven't seen the movie at all. Maybe after I finish the book? And no, its not just a doing-it-for-love book. Well, at least its not a finishing-it-for-love book. I doubt I would have picked it up had it not been for him shoving it at me. But now that I have, I'm glad.

.. never seeen the MASH movie? I like Donald Sutherland, though?

message 8: by Jude (new)

Jude well, it's Altman - which makes it kinda required in some worlds. and it really was something in its day - and it gave us the tv show, which i revere. Bud Court - of Harold & Maude - has a small part. Radar is played by the same guy who played him on tv. I dunno if i could recommend it at this point - i'm just grateful i got to love it when i did:>

and. AND. if you're gonna do it, do it in style - watch it as a double feature with the movie Patton. a local theater where i grew up did that - during the viet nam war, yes? it was awesome. course they also served kielbasa and beer and the double feature only cost 2.50. damn. i love being a geezer. well - a boomer geezer - i think that is a special category. means they are almost always playing your music pretty much anywhere they want you to spend money.

but i digress. cuz. yknow. geezer. oxox

message 7: by Martine (new)

Martine I agree. The first few chapters are hilarious, the middle is dull, and then it gets quite good again. Only you put it much more eloquently. :-)

Kelly Ha, well you put it very succintly and without all my rambling. Yes, that's approximately what I felt. If I missed something, I am glad I'm in such good company. :)

Kelly And there are virtues to that, certainly. But I do think that's why it feels dated, because that sort of indiscriminate yelling of "Why, why, why?" is packaged so differently now. I do think perhaps I can't respond to it on the visceral level that some people do because I'm affected by that.

Thanks, Robert. That's a great perspective on the sixties.

message 4: by Szplug (last edited Aug 03, 2011 09:25AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Szplug Outstanding. I don't think I've come across another review here on Goodreads that so perfectly encapsulates my thoughts, feelings, and opinions on a particular book—including the sub-opining about The Catcher in the Rye!—to such a degree that I shall now pen a review of Catch-22 with a link stating What Kelly Says? Ditto.

message 3: by Kelly (last edited Aug 03, 2011 12:13PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kelly This is maybe the best goodreads compliment I've ever received! It's always nice to hear that people like my reviews, but it's way better to feel like I'm articulating my thoughts well enough that someone recognizes them to such an extent. Thanks, Chris!

Also, Catcher UGGGH. I will one day develop a more nuanced opinion than this. Just not today. :)

Szplug You're welcome! It was quite a remarkable thing to read your review and find it so utterly resonant to my own way of thinking...though perhaps that ought to worry you somewhat! :)

Kelly Chris wrote: "You're welcome! It was quite a remarkable thing to read your review and find it so utterly resonant to my own way of thinking...though perhaps that ought to worry you somewhat! :)"

People who think Twilight is the second coming, I worry about. People who manage to write hilarious reviews of Galbraith, I do not. :)

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