With his first book, the seminal anti-war novel Catch-22
, Joseph Heller became one of American literature's most important 20th-century writers. The posthumous collection, Catch As Catch Can: The Collected Stories and Other Writings
, shows Heller's early development as a writer, but in essence provides the "outtakes," "B-sides," and sketches related to Catch-22
, and several nonfiction pieces regarding it, mixed with juvenilia. A more appropriate title might have been The Making of Catch-22
Heller's early forays into fiction are somewhat memorable, such as "The Girl from Greenwich," a story about vanity, and "A Man Named Flute," wherein a father deals with the discovery of his son's drug use. Also, "World Full of Great Cities" is a disturbing look at what a couple might do to save their marriage. This collection, however, contains a great many works that revolve around Catch-22, or contain characters that appear in that work, including two chapters cut from the novel and published as independent stories: "Love, Dad" and "Yossarian Survives." Not surprisingly, these are the strongest works in the book. "Love, Dad" provides the first introduction to Edward J. Nately III, who "was often lonely and nagged by vague, incipient longings. He contemplated his sophomore year at Harvard without enthusiasm, without joy. Fortunately, the War broke out in time to save him." Joseph Heller will be known forever for his great novel, Catch-22, and Catch As Catch Can serves to back up this notion. --Michael Ferch
From Publishers Weekly
This posthumous collection of Heller's writings combines his published stories with five previously unpublished ones, along with several essays about the writing of-and fallout from-Catch-22 and a play based on that novel. The collection, which covers 50 years of Heller's work, is striking for its range of tone. Readers familiar only with the acid humor of Catch-22 will be surprised by the melancholy of his early naturalistic stories about poverty, forgotten war heroes and recovering drug addicts. WWII vet Nathan Scholl returns from a heroin treatment program in Kentucky to his native Washington, D.C., where he drifts through his old haunts dejected and uncured, in "To Laugh in the Morning." In "Lot's Wife," Sydney Cooper watches as his wife, Louise, nonchalantly smokes a cigarette in the car, unaffected by the presence, outside the vehicle, of the injured man she's just run down. The couple reappear in "The Death of the Dying Swan," she as a party hostess with a plastic smile, he as the dutiful but resentful husband who escapes the party by volunteering to buy a jar of mustard. The collection shows the gradual evolution of an author who began his career writing polished but predictable stories and ended up inventing a voice and idiom that came to define the postwar era. The volume will be much appreciated by Heller's fans and students.
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