Last week’s book is a book that I’ve actually been reading for about a month. And I finally finished it. Actually, I’m quite proud for not giving up. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is probably one of the most painful books I’ve ever forced myself to read. From the first to the last page, I could not stand it.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1451626657&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrThe book tells the story of Yossarian and his cohorts. They are a military outfit during World War II, stationed on the island of Pianosa in Italy. For the majority of the novel, the reader feels that there is not much of a coherent plot, but rather a choppy series of short stories about the same characters. Each chapter is named after one of the characters, and tells a ridiculous story about things that happen to or around the character named. Critics in favor of the novel call it “hilarious,” but I beg to differ. The novel is dripping with satire and is full of buffoonery, but it’s not amusing so much as irritating. The author’s purpose in writing is to point out the absurdity and insanity of human “logic,” and he uses the American military to do it.
First, I’ll address the plot, or lack thereof. It is, as I said before, choppy and confusing. As in a great deal of 20th-Century American literature, both timeline and place are difficult to determine. The best word to describe it would be “cloudy.” The action is delivered in such away that the narrative seems almost dreamlike and blurred. In these series of stories, the men must fly missions, bombing various Axis cities or bridges. There is very little transition from camp to airplane to Rome and back. The reader must infer where they are. In addition to this, various events are repeated multiple times throughout the book, but not in a clear way. For instance, one of the soldiers dies in a plane on one of the missions. The first time it is described, it seems as though it’s an event in the past, but later on is presented as if it is happening in the present. Time is not a straight line in this book, but a confusing jumble of memories and reality. People that were dead in the first half of the novel are alive and the subject of later chapters.
His descriptions of women are atrocious and insulting. The only women who truly appear in the novel are slutty nurses or Italian prostitutes. Whether this is part of the satire or Heller’s genuine expression of opinion on women I can’t tell, but I’m pretty sensitive to how women are portrayed in literature, and I’m not a fan of Heller’s.
The issue of absurdity needs to be addressed. I understand that he is pointing out human insanity, and the fact that there is a very fine line between crazy and sane, but some of his contradictions were irritating, unnecessary, and far too frequent. The officers are idiotic, and Yossarian’s fellows are buffoons–each and every one. Yossarian himself is strange at times, but seems to be the most aware of what is going on. The rest of them have made the island of Pianosa and the surrounding areas (and the war itself) their whole world, and have no thoughts of escape. Everyone is corrupt, but are admired and praised for it. Cowardice is rewarded. People believe words on paper over the evidence of their own eyes.
Perhaps I should write at least one thing in praise of Catch-22, since it’s a classic and many people enjoy it. The end really gripped me. Once things come together and form a somewhat linear timeline, and certain things that happened at earlier stages of the novel are explained, it wasn’t quite as frustrating. Yossarian seems to have all the focus drawn back to him, and as a character he fluffs up and fills out a great deal in the last chapters. The action was more engaging than at any other point in the novel–by “more” engaging, I mean they were actually engaging at all, rather than boring and pointless as at all other parts of the book. The other characters are still idiots, but at least there are some real human emotions presented, and there are emotionally evocative things. The people presented in the novel become people, instead of elusive concepts formed by words on a page to be created or discarded at will.
The only reason I recommend reading this book is because it’s a classic and you can add it to your list. Others have enjoyed it a lot, as I’m sure some of my readers will should they read it. But I didn’t enjoy it, and if you have tastes similar to mine, you won’t like it either.