JOSEPH HELLER Ė CATCH 22 Simon & Schuster, 1961/ CLOSING TIME. Simon & Schuster, 1994.
The story of Yossarianís efforts to get himself out of the U.S. air force is one of the sharpest, most savage satires of our age. The Catch itself states that to believe you have suffered irrational madness to get out of flying a warplane due to an irrational fear of flying shows reason, intelligence and sanity, that makes you the ideal person to undertake even the most dangerous of missions, so there is no way out of the fact that you have to get in the plane again. Catch-22 is now a buzzword for a no-win situation. The novel that gave us this line also features many references to atheism. At one point two characters argue viscously, and one says; But the God you donít believe in isnít the same as the God I donít believe in.í Hellerís other books have generally proved disappointing. The book was a big influence on the cynical anger behind MASH. As well as its humour with Milo Minderbinder making profit from war and misery, (even selling weapons to the Germans) and Yossarianís efforts to swim to Switzerland, there is also some genuine horror. A suicidal pilot cuts a man in half with the wings of his plane. There are also the intense descriptions of life on a plane undergoing heavy fire.
Though most of Hellerís other books are unexceptional, though the sequel to Catch-22 (Closing Time) is brilliantly set in the present day. Reading it twenty years after the original was something of a curateís egg experience. It reintroduces the now old figures that were the legends of some of my earliest reading; Yossarian, The Chaplain, Minderbinder, etc, and it feels good, like a school reunion. (Their own nostalgia is a prominent theme of the novel), but the increasingly end of the world science fiction theme of the Chaplain inexplicably starting to urinate Ďheavy waterí (a vital ingredient in nuclear weapons) is a mistake. The idea seems fun in many ways, as the poor man is exploited as a natural resource and Yossarian tries desperately to find him, There are still great moments of surrealism and humour, i.e. the society wedding among the homeless in a bus shelter, and M & M enterprises under Milo Minderbinder, picking up on Stealth Plane technology and selling the ever greedy US air-force a plane that doesnít even exist. but it lacks the realism of the book it follows on from. Still, it was nice to be visited by my old friends again. There is also a touching cameo by Heller's real life friend, Kurt Vonnegutt, in vivid descriptions of the fire-storm at Dresden, which Vonegutt really lived through. http://www.sc.edu/library/spcoll/amlit/heller3.html
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