Monday, January 17, 2011

Book #1: "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller

Oh, well, what the hell.

I first read this book when I was only 16 years old. I didn't even know English very well back then, and I distinctly remember that large portions of the book went directly over my head. And I still enjoyed the hell out of it.

Imagine my surprise when I re-read it ten years later and my reaction was, well, almost exactly the same as it had been back then.

To put it in a few words, Catch-22 is confusing, disjointed and disorienting as all hell. And it's one of the funniest books I have ever read. This time around I was able to pick up on so many more of the (sometimes admittedly groan-inducing) jokes that Heller has sprinkled all over book. I was able to keep better track of the 15 thousand characters that show up at completely random moments, and to keep a slightly less-slippery grasp of the story, which hops from place to place sometimes within the same sentence.

It's hard to write about this book, because where the hell do you even begin? There's no such thing as a linear story, and the best way to sum it up is this: There's this guy in the army at the end (or...the beginning) of World War 2. His name is John Yossarian, and he's a pilot who doesn't want to fly any more missions, because he thinks that everyone is out to kill him. "They're out to kill everybody", he's told. But he takes it personally. But he's told he can't get grounded, because the only people who get grounded are the crazy ones. But the crazy ones don't want to get grounded, so they fly more missions. Yossarian is clearly not crazy, because he doesn't want to die. Got that? That's Catch-22.

Are you as confused as I was trying to write that? Good, because this whole book is like that. It has a beginning, sure, and an ending, but shortly after the first two pages Heller goes back in time, then a little bit forwards, then further back, the further ahead, and soon you have absolutely no idea of where you are. You just know that there's some guy named Milo who feeds the squadron cotton balls covered in chocolate, and a chaplain, and a guy with named Major Major Major Major. And it's all outrageously funny. Sometimes. Most of the time. Sometimes the book can get incredibly depressing, specially towards the end.

And that's kind of the point, really. Heller is trying to tell you that war is confusing and dehumanizing. That everyone is equally ridiculous and absurd, but that things can also be deathly serious. When you sit down and think about the world that Yossarian is stuck in, it seems like that is what hell would be like.

It's definitely not a book for everyone. I've often heard people saying they couldn't keep reading, because the story was too confusing. Too many characters, too much absurdist nonsense. And that's true, but that's exactly why I loved it. You never known where the book is headed, and I actually enjoyed feeling like my head was spinning after reading certain parts of the book.

I'd say give it a try. You'll either love it or hate it, but hopefully you'll laugh as hard as I did. I always recommend this book to everyone I meet, though maybe sometimes I shouldn't. I just think everyone should give it a try and make up their own minds.

Then you'd be in on the joke, and you'd know the answer to eternal questions such as "Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?"

1 comment:

Jelinas said...

I SO have to read this. It's always been on my to-read list, but I think you just bumped it up to the top.