Book Review / Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

My Rating:  4 of 5 Stars

Page Count: 472

Date Finished: May 2, 2017

I owe it to television shows that have an abundance of characters for subconsciously helping me prepare for this book. Shows like Band of Brothers, The Wire, and Game of Thrones all ask the viewer to pay close attention and even do some additional research in order to follow along. Catch-22, however, is not a television show. Books will often ask a little more out of the consumer in terms of concentration. There is an absurd amount of characters depicted in the novel. I don’t mean absurd as in “I’m going to have to look up a lot of characters” absurd, I mean absurd as in “looking up all of these characters likely isn’t worth it”. I decided I was enjoying the novel enough and didn’t want to disrupt its flow, so I continued through the book and let important names resonate on their own. It paid off. The moment I had a feel for Heller’s humor is the moment I realized I didn’t need to stress over minor details. His style of humor follows a similar structure throughout, making it very easy to identify its satirical undertones.

The number of characters is only the first obstacle. The timeline in Catch-22 is practically nonsensical for the majority of the book. Heller jumps around in his timeline, introduces new characters out of thin air, and veers off topic quite often. While scenes themselves are usually easy to illustrate in your mind, the reason why these scenes are happening and what they mean is usually unclear. It’s not until the later stages of the novel that it slowly begins to make more sense as the ending approaches in anticipated fashion. This is a book that is perfect for reading multiple times.

We are introduced to the phrase Catch-22 early on. Yossarian and his fellow airmen are allowed to become grounded from combat missions if they say they are crazy, making them unfit to fly. But this means that if the men care enough about their lives to claim they are crazy in order to get out of flying, they must not be crazy and will be forced to fly. So, this paradox is used throughout the book in the most insane ways to create an awful experience for our main character, Yossarian. The satirical humor begins in hilarious fashion, then slowly grows to become infuriating because of the incompetence of the higher ranking officers. I mean, these guys make Michael Scott look comparatively easy to work with. Just like in The Office you understand that it’s just all in comedic fun. The difference being that in Catch-22 peoples lives are on the line, making their incompetence and selfishness utterly painful at times. As I was nearing the end of the book, the visceral meanings in Heller’s writing cut deeper and deeper, and I was blown away by how he went back and forth between humor and tragedy so effortlessly. This is not your standard war story with tons of combat, gore, patriotism, and heroes. Heller specifically wrote it to blow the roof off of what people expected from a war novel, which he does in spectacular fashion.

“Sure, that’s what I mean,’ Doc Daneeka said. ‘A little grease is what makes this world go round. One hand washes the other. Know what I mean? You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’

Yossarian knew what he meant.

That’s not what I meant,’ Doc Daneeka said, as Yossarian began scratching his back.”

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