Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (6 down, 94 to go)

This is the first time I’ve read Catch-22 or Joseph Heller. The novel is a satire and/or dark humor, third-person narrative. It primarily details the life of John Yossarian, a captain and bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Force, operating from Italy during World War II.

My rating: 3 1/2 of 5 stars


This was certainly the most FUN novel I've read thus far, a stark contrast to the tremendous chore of the last [Ulysses]. The setting is an American bomber squadron, operating from Italy during WWII. I wouldn't call it a war story however; it's more of a modernist comic drama in a wartime setting.

I served in the Air Force myself so there was an immediate connection. My time, 1985-2007, was undoubtedly very different from WWII, but there are still elements of military life, tedium, and bureaucracy that resonate. Catch-22 reminds me of M*A*S*H, the TV show. But Heller portrays military life so preposterously as to make it unbelievable. I have no issue with that, comedy is a gross exaggeration of the truth, so I can suspend disbelief for a laugh and entertainment. I have no doubt there were absurd moments, bizarre circumstances, enacted by incompetent players for ludicrous ends, but I can’t take most of the story seriously.

The concept of Catch-22 named, but certainly not invented, by Heller is quite entertaining:
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

Film Rendition: 1970 starring Alan Arkin and an all-star cast. A very good portrayal, excellent casting, and pretty true to the novel.



  1. One of my favorite novels! I really need to re-read it -- it's on my Classics Club list, I think. I found it so completely original, wildly entertaining, and great at pointing out the absurdities of life, whether military or not.

    Alas, I was disappointed by the movie version, despite excellent acting by Alan Arkin and many others. I felt like it failed to capture the flavor and tone of the book. And even if I didn't compare it to the book, as a movie it felt disjointed and unwieldy. I'm glad to hear someone liked it, at least!

  2. I've never read Catch 22 and I always shy away from stories that deal with war but I've always heard great things about this book. I really thought the concept of a Catch-22 came from this book.

  3. It's not really a war story. It's been a little while now, but I don't believe there was anything very horrific...maybe mention of a plane and crew that didn't make it back, that sort of thing, but nothing graphic. It's a quirky book.

  4. I started reading this earlier this month, but I had to stop. I got the humor, but I guess I just wasn't in the mood. So I put it away for another day. I will get back to it when I have a better attitude. : )

  5. I've tried to read this three times. At the beginning, each time, I laugh out loud at the absurdities. The fun names, the bizarre situations, the irony. But by half way I just get so tired of the joke, that I lose my way...three times!!

    Is the ending worth it?

    1. I liked it OK, but I can definitely see it not having a tremendously wide appeal. No, I really doubt you'd find the ending satisfying if you weren't enjoying the middle.


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