Sunday, August 3, 2014

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 is set in the closing months of World War II, in an American bomber squadron on a small island off Italy. Its hero is a bombardier named Yossarian, who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he hasn't even met keep trying to kill him. (He has decided to live forever even if he has to die in the attempt.)

His problem is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the men have to fly.
The others range from Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder, a dedicated entrepreneur (he bombs his own airfield when the Germans make him a reasonable offer: cost plus 6%), to the dead man in Yossarian's tent; from Major Major Major, whose tragedy is that he resembles Henry Fonda, to Nately's whore's kid sister; from Lieutenant Scheisskopf (he loves a parade) to Major -- de Coverley, whose face is so forbidding no one has ever dared ask him his first name; from Clevinger, who is lost in the clouds, to the soldier in white, who lies encased in bandages from head to toe and may not even be there at all; from Dori Duz, who does, to the wounded gunner Snowden, who lies dying in the tail of Yossarian's plane and at last reveals his terrifying secret.

Catch-22 is a microcosm of the twentieth-century world as it might look to someone dangerously sane. It is a novel that lives and moves and grows with astonishing power and vitality. It is, we believe, one of the strongest creations of the mid-century.

As revealing today as when it was first published, this brilliant novel by the author of Picture This expresses the concerns of an entire generation in its black comedy. World War II flier John Yossarian decides that his only mission each time he goes up is to return—alive!
Review by Patrick:

 This was another one of my unfinished books that I decided to finish for this blog. I'm glad I did finish though. Not so glad that I read it.

Let me start out positive. This book was the best portrayal of dry humor and paradoxes I have ever encountered.

That's it. I hated this book. It was so boring. The story wasn't really a story, and the resolution was almost non-existent, which I guess I should have expected when you are facing a Catch 22. The book hardly followed the same character. Everyone dies (not quite like Game of Thrones, but enough to be disturbing).

I would like to quote an actual passage to give you a sample of the humor, wit, and dryness of the writing. Yossarian is speaking to a doctor, Doc Daneeka. Yossarian's whole mission in life is to not get killed, and the best way to do that is to not fly anymore missions:
"You're wasting your time," Doc Daneeka was forced to tell him.
"Can't you ground someone who's crazy?"
"Oh, sure. I have to. There's a rule saying I have to ground anyone who's crazy."
"Then why don't you ground me? I'm crazy. Ask Clevinger."
"Clevinger? Where is Clevinger? You find Clevinger and I'll ask him."
"Then ask any of the others. They'll tell you how crazy I am."
"They're crazy."
"Then why don't you ground them?"
"Why don't they ask me to ground them?"
"Because they're crazy, that's why."
"Of course they're crazy," Doc Daneeka replied. "I just told you they're crazy, didn't I? And you can't let crazy people decide whether you're crazy or not, can you?"
Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. "Is Orr crazy?"
"He sure is," Doc Daneeka said.
"Can you ground him?"
"I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule."
"Then why doesn't he ask you to?"
"Because he's crazy," Doc Daneeka said. "He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to."
"That's all he has to do to be grounded?"
"That's all. Let him ask me."
"And then you can ground him?" Yossarian asked.
"No. Then I can't ground him."
"You mean there's a catch?"
"Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own 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 was 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 the clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.
Maybe that was the point of this book. Maybe it was to show the complications of this war and the people who were participating in it. I will say that I was impressed with near the end of the book (Chapter 39: The Eternal City) it became quite philosophical and existential. It was as if the rest of the book that came before it was only building to show the nature of the human, or at least this human. It was quite thought provoking.

I can't rate this book high, all the same. I'm glad I read it, only for the sake that it is a "classic," and I have a strong desire to read all the classics. I could have read something so much more entertaining though. I'm going to give it a rating of 1.5. The saving grace of this book is the paradoxes that were contained in it, which is also probably why I gave it such a bad rating in the first place.


Beautiful Redemption, and I reserved Divergent.

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