Catch-22, the renowned classic by Joseph Heller, tells the story of an outrageous Air Force squadron stationed on a Mediterranean island during World War II.
The story centers around Yossarian, possibly the only sane character in the book, and his struggle to not get killed. He is convinced that everyone is out to get him and given that he faces enemy fire on each bombing mission and that Colonel Cathcart continually raises the number of missions that must be flown in order to be discharged, he might be right.
Insanity, however, which runs deep in the squadron, offers a way out. If you’re crazy, all you have to do to get out of combat duty is ask. But there’s a catch - Catch-22 - which states that anyone asking to get out of combat duty is showing a concern for his safety which is the process of a rational mind and therefore proof that he is not crazy.
Other types of Catch-22’s abound in this irreverent tale of idiocy and chaos. Time is hazy and we feel as if we’re experiencing flashbacks as we jump back and forth between stories that unfold little by little until the details of a few jarring episodes are fully revealed at the end.
While the book provides plenty of comedy and ultimately ends with a surreal and frightening look at the horrors of humanity, two solid pluses, there were surprisingly few laugh-out-loud moments and a fair amount of corny and tiresome lines.
Heller is clearly a huge fan (and possibly a pioneer) of slap-you-in-the-face irony which was hilarious before I had pubes but is so pervasive and monotonous that it makes me wanna spit on babies. For instance, on the third page of the book we have:
The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likable. In three days no one could stand him.
It would have been nice if Heller had omitted many of these duds but as with everything in life there are exceptions. For example, after Chief White Halfoat recites his family’s long tale of hardship, he concludes with the following.
Racial prejudice is a terrible thing, Yossarian. It really is. It’s a terrible thing to treat a decent, loyal Indian like a nigger, kike, wop or spic.
And while I correctly & astutely complain about lame slap-you-in-the-face irony gags, what makes this book great (and it is great*) is the cast of characters – the delinquents, imbeciles, and ass monkeys – that populate the squadron.
In addition to Yossarian, this includes Dunbar – my personal hero and guiding light – who cultivates boredom to increase his lifespan; Orr, the grinning pygmy with crab apple cheeks; Aarfy – good old Aarfy; Nately, who’s madly in love with a prostitute who couldn’t be more bored with him; McWatt, who may be the craziest of all because he’s perfectly sane yet doesn’t mind war; and Major Sanderson, a staff psychiatrist with an acute interest in intense sex dreams.
To sum up, Catch-22 comprises key features that make a great book. It’s assinine, irreverent (Heller takes the piss out of the military, the government, and humanity in general), and ultimately moving. And while I recommend this book to everyone – especially those of you studying for the SATs – its lack of laugh-out-loud moments and Heller’s occasionally corny sense of humor drop it down to a still extremely respectable 4 pearls.
Bonus quote: Like Olympic medals and tennis trophies, all [the parade pennants] signified was that the owner had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than anyone else.
*This book would be a God Damn Gem if every chapter was like Ch. 27 and if someone would chop about a third off the page count.