Sunday, September 17, 2017


Catch-22. Joseph Heller. 1961. 453 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him. Yossarian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. The doctors were puzzled by the fact that it wasn't quite jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn't become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them.

Premise/plot: Catch-22 is set during the Second World War near the Italian front. Yossarian, our protagonist, is ruled by one thing: the desire to stay alive another day. He doesn't want to be a hero. He doesn't want to do his duty. He doesn't want to be a team-player. He doesn't want to follow orders, not if following orders means dying. He's a terrible, terrible soldier and he knows it.
Yossarian was a lead bombardier who had been demoted because he no longer gave a damn whether he missed or not. He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive. (29)
Throughout the novel, the number of flight missions needed to complete the tour of duty keeps increasing. Yossarian didn't mind--quite so much anyway--doing his part if the end was in sight. Say he'd flown 35 out of 40 missions. But to know that no matter how many you fly, your squadron's missions will keep increasing is too much. By the end, I want to say it's eighty missions before you can get sent home. Meanwhile, his friends--some of them his close friends--keep dying.

If I had to sum it up simply I'd say Catch-22 was one man's struggle to stay alive and stay sane in the attempt. Is he successful at the staying sane? You'll have to judge for yourself.

My thoughts: I didn't love, love, love everything about this one. It is far from clean in terms of profanity and adult situations. But I really enjoyed the narration. I thought it was a very well-written novel. I found it funny.
"Can't you ground someone who's crazy?" "Oh, sure. I have to. There's a rule saying I have to ground anyone who's crazy." "Then why don't you ground me? I'm crazy. Ask Clevinger." (45)
"Is Orr crazy?" "He sure is," Doc Daneeka said. "Can you ground him?" "I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule." "Then why doesn't he ask you to?" "Because he's crazy," Doc Daneeka said. "He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to." "That's all he has to do to be grounded?" "That's all. Let him ask me." "And then you can ground him?" Yossarian asked. "No. Then I can't ground him." "You mean there's a catch?" "Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy." (45-6)
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions.(46)
History did not demand Yossarian's premature demise, justice could be satisfied without it, progress did not hinge upon it, victory did not depend on it. That men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance, and Yossarian was willing to be the victim of anything but circumstance. (68)
"The enemy," retorted Yossarian with weighted precision, "is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on, and that includes Colonel Cathcart. And don't you forget that, because the longer you remember it, the longer you might live. (124)
You know, that might be the answer--to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That's a trick that never seems to fail. (139)
Something was terribly wrong if everything was all right and they had no excuse for turning back. (140)
It was one thing to maintain liaison with the Lord, and they were all in favor of that; it was something else though to have Him hanging around twenty-four hours a day. (201)
"What in the world are Wisconsin shingles?" asked Yossarian. "That's just what the doctor's wanted to know!" blurted out the chaplain proudly, and burst into laughter. "There's no such thing as Wisconsin shingles. Don't you understand. I lied. I made a deal with the doctors. I promised that I would let them know when my Wisconsin shingles went away if they would promise not to do anything to cure them. (363)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

No comments: