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Catch As Catch Can: The Collected Stories and Other Writings Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 25, 2003

4.1 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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This posthumous collection of Heller's writings combines his published stories with five previously unpublished ones, along with several essays about the writing of-and fallout from-Catch-22 and a play based on that novel.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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (February 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743243749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743243742
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,624,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bohdan Kot on January 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Joseph Heller is famous for bringing the phrase catch-22 into the popular lexicon with his best-selling first novel, "Catch-22." However, Heller did write short stories before his novel days began. Well-crafted short stories - five never before published - a play and non-fiction writings by Heller comprise this posthumously published book thanks to the editing of Matthew J. Bruccoli of the University of South Carolina and Park Brucker.

"Catch as Catch Can" is a delicious treat for "Catch-22" fans who desire more of Heller's black comedy since a third of the book concerns itself with the novel, "Catch-22." "Yossarian Survives," a small chapter originally deleted from "Catch-22," contains the irresistibly funny lines, "Don't just lie there while you're waiting for the ambulance. Do push ups."

But what really makes this collection interesting, especially for aspiring writers, is "observing Joseph Heller's apprenticeship." Heller's first published short story, "I Don't Love You Any More," dates from 1945 and is about a military man returning from WWII who decides he is not in love with his wife anymore. This short story and many other early ones lack Heller's satirical voice perfected in his novels. There are hints of the biting humor, but the reader can clearly sense Heller is struggling for his own voice. Heller in fact writes, "there wasn't much distinctive about all but two or three of the stories I was writing at this time. I now wanted to be new . . . Original." Bruccoli and Brucker write, "Not until `MacAdam's Log' (`Gentlemen's Quarterly', 1959) did Heller break through the conventional magazine formula." "Catch as Catch Can" allows us to catch Heller's progression from stock short-story writer to literary genius.

Bohdan Kot
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Format: Paperback
If for no other reason, fans of Joseph Heller will enjoy this book because it supplements his great work "Catch-22". While some of the short stories are amusing, they are largely unspectacular in showing a young writer developing his craft.

The short story "Yossarian Survives" is a humorous chapter that was deleted from "Catch-22". Some might suggest it is the centerpiece of this collection. "Catch-23: Yossarian Lives" and "The Day Bush Left Office" are previews to the sequel to "Catch-22" called "Closing Time". Restated in the form of a play is an omitted chapter titled "Clevinger's Trial". "Love, Dad" further develops the Nately character from "Catch-22". This is a virtual goldmine for lovers of "Catch-22".

The non-fictional "I am a Bombardier" and "Coney Island: The Fun is Over" are vivid recollections of Heller's pre-war and post-war observations respectively. The loss of childhood innocence in "Coney Island" is heartbreaking.

These short stories are only a demonstration of a writer learning his craft. Though these stories are unspectacular, a few are noteworthy. "Girl for Greenwich" shows parallels to the plot of Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's". Substance abuse is a common theme in the other stories. "I Don't Love You Anymore" and "A Man Named Flute" stand out in this theme.

With respect to this collection of stories, fans of "Catch-22" and Joseph Heller will be delighted in the stories. It is a misfortune that it is so difficult to find in print in America.
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Format: Hardcover
Few novels impart the sense of the 1960s as did Heller's "Catch-22". It might be considered the guidebook for the movement to end the fallacy of the United States' involvement in Viet Nam. So abrupt was Heller's rise to prominence with that novel that his previous work was nearly lost to view. This collection restores somewhat our sense of how Heller developed as a writer. From the time of his discharge from the Air Force to "Catch-22" eight short stories were published. That they faded from perception can best be attributed to the blazing popularity of the novel and the social upheaval occuring during the ensuing years.

The editors have gleaned this collection from among Heller's published and unpublished works ranging from 1945 to 1990. This anthology is a mix of fiction and social essays, giving us a good insight into Heller's experiences, thinking and writing skills. The latter are particularly demonstrated in their growth from his early stories through his descriptions of "Catch-22" in its writing and filming. The stories and essays are grouped into those published and those left unseen. There is also the one-act play derived from a character in "Catch-22", "Clevinger's Trial". The play is highly derivative of Heller's view of military procedures and "justice" in assessing its own. Given that, however, little of the novel's spirited style is exhibited here. Excellent narrative style, but little of the incisive wit is displayed. Those who have read "Catch-22" might be led to believe this is not the same writer.

The editors open with excerpts from "Now and Then" in which Heller credits writings of the "urban school" of William Saroyan, Irwin Shaw and Studs Lonigan.
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Format: Hardcover
As a fan or Mr. Heller's books (especially Catch-22) I found his early writing very interesting. The short stories in this book vary from excellant to very under developed. Important to note that when he was an undergraduate, some of these stories where accepted by The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly. Today, if a student reached those lofty heights they would be in very very rare company.
Early in the book the short stories are more serious less humorous than you would expect from Heller. They are more along the line of what you would find when reading Dubus or Carver. As you progress there are stories written involving Catch-22 characters (Nately, Yossarian) that take place after the war, after Catch-22.
The book then moves to pieces written during the early 1990's at he time of George H. Bush's administration. These pieces are biting satires in regards to our former president and his political stands.
One will also find within the pages, a re-printed lecture Heller gave regarding Catch-22.
As you can see, the book was constructive post-mortem and has the feel of work randomly inserted. It's difficult to get into the flow for a long literary sitting. For example, once I became involved and settled in his short work, the book took me to other well-written places, but places I was not ready for.
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