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It was love at first sight
on April 14, 2014
That was fifty years ago. I was ten or eleven, Catch 22 was a year old or maybe two. My brother, in college, recommended this book. I liked it so much I read it beginning on New Year every year until I went to college. I just reread it for the first time in forty some years. It’s still brilliant. It’s still startlingly funny and it still hurts down deep.
It rose above the realistic novels written immediately after the Second World War. It rose above Mailer and Jones and Shaw. When asked why he’d never written another book like Catch 22, Heller’s answer was “Who has?” Of course he was right. A couple of the great wave of novels that followed the Second World War stand shoulder to shoulder with the catch; Slaughter House Five and Gunter Grass’s Dog Years come to my mind. Lots of very good novels came out of the war, first novels from writers like Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer, Irwin Shaw and James Jones, Thomas Heggens, who won a Tony for the stage version of his novel, Mr. Roberts, James Gould Cozzens, who won a Pulitzer for Guard of Honor. None of those good books compare. Catch 22 entered the language. For a few years the blue paperback with the dancing soldier puppet was everywhere.
Yossarian, the novel’s hero, spends the novel trying not to die in the war. A difficult job, since his colonel raises the number of missions he must fly from twenty-five to seventy, in an attempt to impress the Saturday Evening Post. Since I last read this I served in the army, where sooner or later everybody winds up working for Colonel Cathcart. I’m thinking that besides its anarchic appeal for youth, there were at that time millions of Veterans many of whom shared it’s cynicism about the organizations they worked for.
If you’ve never read it, you’ve missed a great read. If you read it a long time ago It might be time to enjoy it again. I suspect you’ll still laugh whenever Heller tells you to. And like love at first sight it will probably still break your heart.