Michael Finocchiaro's Reviews > Catch-22

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
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's review
Dec 18, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: novels, classics, american-20th-c
Read from December 11 to 18, 2016 — I own a copy

Hmm, where to start with a book like this one. A book that is a third Kafka, a third Vonnegut, a third Pynchon and completely insane? For the first 200 or 250 pages, it is like a broken record or a movie loop with Sisyphus rolling that boulder up a hill in American WWII battle fatigues (and a flight suit and a Mae West life preserver sans the inflation module thanks the M&M Enterprises). Then, when the flak starts flying and the blood is splattered everywhere it is intense right up until the end.

It features Chaucerian cast of characters that would not be out of place in the German chaos of Gravity's Rainbow or The Tin Drum. A few examples:

Major Major Major Major: "He was a proud and independent man who was opposed to unemployment insurance and never hesitated to whine, whimper, wheedle, and extort for as much as he could get from whoever he could. He was a devout man whose pulpit was everywhere." But if you want a meeting with him, you'll have to wait until he has climbed out the window of his office and run down the gully.

Colonel Cathart: "a slick, successful, slipshod, unhappy man of thirty-six who lumbered while we walked and wanted to be a general...[he was] impervious to absolutes. He could measure his own progress only in relationship to others, and his idea of excellence was to do something at least as well as all the men his same age who were doing the same thing even better." Even if (or especially if) that meant raising the number of combat missions from 50 to 80 to impress General Peckham or General Dreedle or (gasp) General Scheisskopf (!!) whose wife was well, just a little promiscuous.

Then there is the Anabaptist chaplain who started to wonder about whether God exists and is tortured by his assistant, the sadistic Colonel Whitcomb and spends a lot of time wondering whether everything he sees is déjà vu, presque vu or jamais vu.

Also, the ill-fated young Nately and the equally ill-fated old man debating whether America was winning the war or whether Italy was since Italy has already survived more than two millennia more than the US even existed: "This sordid, vulturous, diabolical old man reminded [him] of his father because the two were nothing at all alike."

And then there is Yossarian, the protagonist. Perhaps the insane Captain (decorated for making a second bombing pass that killed Kraft) being the sanest person on the island of Pianosa despite being haunted by Snowden, the soldier in white, the dead man in his tent, persecuted and nearly killed by Nately's whore and all the death and absurdity around him. Yossarian is an everyman who is justifiably paranoid, but just a cog in the system and the only person that retains a sense of outrage at the senseless violence all around him.

This is the most anti-war book I believe I have ever read. It makes M*A*S*H look like a US Army recruiting poster in comparison. I was horrified by one-man syndicate M&M Enterprises of Milo Minderbender the cynic who deals with total impunity openly with both sides - even manning the anti-aircraft flak machines on the Italian coast shooting down US bombers and bombing his own squadron with loads of casualties. (This of course scarily parallels the Trump links with Putin and Russia and the massive amounts of money that Trump stands to make as POTUS.) Kid Simpson's slaughter was perhaps the most gruesome of them all, but the the scenes of terror and anarchy that Yossarian sees in Rome before being arrested for being there without a pass (leaving the murderous Aarfy smiling and careless as always) were chilling.

Do not come here seeking logic or sanity because in war, neither has any place - not in Catch-22 and I suppose in real life either. It reminded me of a cab driver I had once in New Orleans (true story) who was bragging to me about burying Iraquis in their trenches by rolling over them with tanks and bulldozers during the first Gulf War. When I mentioned that it was against the Geneva Convention to bury men alive, he shrugged in the rearview mirror and said "They told us that those rules didn't apply to us since this was just a conflict and not a war and besides, we were the US Army and not bound by some stupid European rules."

If, as I did, you struggle through the first 200 pages, the pace picks up - as does the violence - and you will find yourself cheering for Yossarian and racing to the end (if not, as Yossarian, to Sweden.)

I would give it 5 stars, but the first 200 pages are really torture to get through, so for lack of being able to give a 4.5, I rounded down to 4 stars. Regardless, I can clearly see, however, why this classic is held in such high esteem. May we never go through another war like this again. I can also see some of the inspiration for Alan Alda for creating M*A*S*H in the 70s and, reading Fire In the Lake about Vietnam, we learned absolutely nothing from the errors that Heller describes.

Reading the second Rick Atkinson book of The Liberation Trilogy about the Allied campaign in Italy. Every bit as brutal and chaotic as Heller portrayed it - particularly the brutal inch-by-inch campaign up from Salerno to Rome! Anzio was particularly horrendous. Curious fact: Roger Waters' father (the one he eulogizes in The Wall) died at Anzio.
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Reading Progress

08/31/2016 marked as: to-read
12/10/2016 marked as: currently-reading
12/10/2016 page 12
2.0% "Cunny from the start. I think I am going to love the Yoassarian character!" 1 comment
12/11/2016 page 78
15.0% "Getting a bit repetitive. Like watching the same M*A*S*H episode on repeat. But if I trust the GR 4* and 5* reviews, it will improve (hopefully sooner than later)" 6 comments
12/11/2016 page 100
19.0% "The Major Major Major Major chapter is really cracking me up - between the psycho dad farmer making a fortune by buying land NOT to grow alfalfa on to the rejection of Major Major when his friends learned is name was not Caleb Major...Hilarious!"
12/12/2016 page 120
23.0% "Another rather slow read, but that chapter 9
on Major Major Major Major was a work of genius."
12/13/2016 page 165
31.0% "Still slogging through Pianosa avoiding bombing runs with Yossarian."
12/13/2016 page 192
36.0% "Still frustratingly slow progress" 2 comments
12/14/2016 page 202
38.0% "Still slogging away in Pianosa. Question is will I make it to the end?" 4 comments
12/17/2016 page 224
43.0% "Still not halfway..." 4 comments
12/17/2016 page 268
51.0% "M" 4 comments
12/17/2016 page 306
58.0% "The Milo storyline is depressing me because it is both absurd and realistic and TOTALLY Trump. I think the only same person on Pianosa is Yossarian. But damnit, I hope I can finish the book before Christmas."
12/18/2016 page 412
79.0% "OMG, Kid Simpson's legs, Nately's whore and Doc Daneeka's not-death...100 pages to go..." 2 comments
12/18/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 82) (82 new)

Vfields Don't touch my happy! One of the best books I've ever read.

Mebarka Fekih Oh i love this book

Michael Finocchiaro It is NOT easy to continue though. i know that is the whole point but it does feel like a sisyphusian effort sometimes

Mebarka Fekih le_fino wrote: "It is NOT easy to continue though. i know that is the whole point but it does feel like a sisyphusian effort sometimes"

yep i know ,i struggled with first 100 pages ,then things got crazy so i kept turning the pages .

Michael Finocchiaro The current Bologna thing and the crazy Hungry Joe are freaking hilarious. Just slow reading is all. I mean I average 60-100 pages an hour normally but with C22, I am lucky to get 20-40 pages done in that time

message 6: by dianne (new) - added it

dianne "This sordid, vulturous, diabolical old man reminded [him] of his father because the two were nothing at all alike." thanks for that.

Michael Finocchiaro No problem dianne. That line really stuck our for me.

message 8: by Lyn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lyn Elliott Thanks for reminding me what a breathtaking book this is. I read it way back, remembered it as savagely anti-war, but had forgotten the story itself. And what a shocking encounter in your New Orleans cab!

Michael Finocchiaro Thanls Lyn. I heard similar stories from others - including a childhood friend that served there- but that one was the most brutal and shocking.

Mebarka Fekih great review

Michael Finocchiaro Thanks Mebarka!

Lizzy Excellent review, Le_fino! I'm planning to read this in 2017. Thanks. L.

Michael Finocchiaro Uw Lizzy! And thanks for the compliment!

message 14: by Rodrigo (new) - added it

Rodrigo Hello le_fino, nice review! Just two things, so do you mean to say that this book reads like a mixture of Kafka, Vonnegut and Pynchon? Inside my copy of Infinite Jest there is a quote by S. King saying the two greatest novels of this century are Catch-22 and IJ. Which got me thinking I should read Catch-22 next year until I read your first post!

message 15: by Manybooks (new) - added it

Manybooks I want to read this, but the parallels to current America are almost too chilling.

message 16: by Manybooks (new) - added it

Manybooks If I had had that taxi driver, I would probably have ended up with a black eye or worse as I know I would not have been able to keep my mouth shut.

message 17: by Rodrigo (new) - added it

Rodrigo I'm at page 710 of IJ and I'm not looking forward to the end, despite the dark stuff and the sadness, I really love reading DFW and getting pleasantly lost in all his rabbit holes. You were right about wanting to go back and reading the first quarter of the book, once you can gauge the tone of his narrative you all of a sudden sense that you may have missed the essence of what goes on at the beginning (I hope that makes sense!)

Michael Finocchiaro @Manybooks, yes there are a lot of frightening parallels between Trump's mafia and Russian connections and Milo Minderbender's Syndicate

Michael Finocchiaro @Rodrigo Not sure if I am going with S King's choices (Light in August and For Whom the Bell Tolls are arguable superior to IJ and C-22). I meant Kafka for the descriptions of administrative absurdity, Vonnegut for use of absurd, humoristic American language and diction and Pynchon for the variety of characters and descriptions of anarchy and chaos.

Michael Finocchiaro That doesn't mean I don't love IJ btw

Chris Gager Undoubtedly one of those books that gave me my relentless bad attitude about THE ESTABLISHMENT - to hark back to a sixties term. Maybe it was THE book

Michael Finocchiaro I can see that. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the christian freakout at The Last Temptation of Christ, Soledad Brother, and The Damned of the Earth did it for me :)

message 23: by Nina (new) - added it

Nina Ive Wow, thanks for the warning not to give up on first 200 pages. This is on my list to read in 2017- I'm a bit nervous about it now

Michael Finocchiaro It is worth it. Think of it as a marathon and pace yourself:)

Libby Congrats le_fino! I'm very encouraged by your review! I will go back to listening when I'm done with Swan Song!

Michael Finocchiaro Cool!! Enjoy it Libby. How is Swan Song?

message 27: by Manybooks (last edited Dec 19, 2016 01:52PM) (new) - added it

Manybooks le_fino wrote: "I can see that. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the christian freakout at The Last Temptation of Christ, Soledad Brother, and The Damned of the Earth did it for me :)"

It is funny, but I personally did not all that much even like the Last Temptation of Christ, but I bet that many simply watched the movie because the Christian Right made such a fuss about it (they made the movie popular), just like Muslim fundamentalists made Rushdie's Satanic Verses popular and a bestseller.

Michael Finocchiaro The book by Kazantzakis is FAR better than the movie and prevented the author from being given an Orthodox burial. I'd call it a must read actually and better than Satanic Verses. I love the epitaph on Kazantzakis grave: "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free."

message 29: by Manybooks (new) - added it

Manybooks le_fino wrote: "The book by Kazantzakis is FAR better than the movie and prevented the author from being given an Orthodox burial. I'd call it a must read actually and better than Satanic Verses. I love the epitap..."

Thanks, I should check out the book, because I found the movie rather boring.

Michael Finocchiaro Yeah, movie was bland. Book was a masterpiece and far more interesting and controversial than the film. Interesting thing is that a lot of his other books were quite orthodox. If I recall the Gospel of Mark's take on the Jesus myth was a man-god and what Kazantzakis was demonstrating that the man side could have had fantasies about sex without actually having sex. Apparently, the fanatics in both the Eastern and Western Christian worlds could not bear the thought of a lustful Jesus. Such repression of course has led to generations of pedophilia by priests. And so it goes. We never learn. Another Catch-22 really...

Libby Haha. Totally! Swan Song is great!

Michael Finocchiaro Swan song by Chekov or perhaps I am misunderstanding you Libby?

Elyse My local book club read it - again - this year ... and many had similar things to say

Michael Finocchiaro It is a great book - once you get into it :)

message 35: by Ray (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ray A super book - and even better on a re read

Michael Finocchiaro Still means civilian deaths and summary executions. Given the actions of Drumpf and the Republicrats over the last week, it is really hard to give him any benefit but rather boosts the doubts concerning basic rights under a Drumpf administration and this scares me shitless

Libby Haha no le_fino Swan Song by McCammon and it was fantastic! But instead of going back to Catch 22 I jumped to Invisible Man by Ellison which is super great!

Michael Finocchiaro OMG yes!! Reviewed ut here on GR! A wonderful book indeed! Lived it!

Michael Finocchiaro No, Woo, we are not. Completely quiet here in fact. I see a few beggars on the street but they are mostly hopeless drunks, no Syrians wielding knives or guns.
Stay skeptical - they are bullshitting you

Michael Finocchiaro Scary thing for me about Drumpf foreign policy is is complete ignorance of global realpolitik issues like Ataiwan/China, he s ludicrous wall will Mexico (look how well that worked out for China! They had Mongol emperors for millenia, his nefarious ties with Moscow and organized crime, his conflicts of interest with various companies he owns or had parts of, his nepotism of putting psychotic, inexperienced relatives into key positions (like Napolean did with Spain, Naples and nearly every other European throne he conquered (and that worked ut exceedingly well in each case (well, the Napoleon relative got filthy rich in any case)...need I continue?

Betsy Robinson For a modern, timely reprise of this theme, I highly recommend just published The Girl in Green. You won't have any problem with the speed of it. It's unputdownable. And funny.

Michael Finocchiaro Thanks for the suggestion Betsy! Added to my tbr list!

Helen What an awesome review. It reminds me of everything I loved about this book, and why it's assigned reading in my kids' high school.

message 45: by Ann (last edited Jan 12, 2017 11:26PM) (new)

Ann Girdharry I loved this book and, coincidentally, found myself struggling to explain it to my two girls (somebody (mis)used the phrase 'Catch 22' in conversation)..

Nice review - It's made me want to read it again

Michael Finocchiaro Thanks Ann. It is amazing how this innocuous phrase entered into the ever-evolving fabric of the English language. I get the word "Catch" but the number "22" gives it a sort of ambiguous institutional feel. Amazing.

message 47: by Beth (new) - rated it 5 stars

Beth Good review! Personally, though, I loved the early part of the book for its sense of humor.

Abram Dorrough I love the first 200 pages. I love all the pages. I love this book. One of my all-time favorites, without a doubt. Major Major Major Major is probably my favorite character name of any book. Arbitrary promotions based on extrinsic qualities are a major part of life, and poor Major Major Major Major is the epitome of such an instance.

Michael Finocchiaro Agreed! Thanks Abram Abram Abram Abram ;)

Michael Finocchiaro @Abram Its funny because my dad and I have COMPLETELY different tastes in reading (he is more of a Tom Clancy-Dan Brown kind of reader whereas, well, I am not), but we both loved Catch-22 and his favourite character is also Major Major Major Major!

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