When Steve asked me to produce a semi-lengthy book review in a couple of days, I knew immediately that I would write about Catch-22, Joseph Heller’s 1961 classic. It’s my all-time favorite book, which could stem from my overwhelming obsession with anything that’s satirical to a level that is almost mockery. I’ve made a habit of reading this novel once a year, building a grotesque love for the complex and vastly differing characters and Heller’s unique style of writing that is almost unhealthy and borderline psychotic.
The first time I read Catch-22, I just happened to find it lying amidst a pile of crap at my parents’ house and decided to give it a go. Pan to four hours into the future, I was still reading it. Putting it down wasn’t an option. I even brought it to the bathroom with me (which, to be perfectly honest, is not an unusual event for me). Needless to say, I finished it within two days.
The year is 1943. World War II is on its last leg. The hero of our story is Captain Yossarian, B-25 bombardier of the U.S. Air Force’s 256th squadron. This is not a story of heroic war-time tales, and it is not a lament of those lost in battle. This is the story of a wonderful, yet tactless man that fakes liver ailments in order to stay in a hospital bed and out of battle, where thousands of people he’s never even met keep trying to kill him. And, for some odd reason, nobody aside from Yossarian and his friend, Lieutenant Dunbar, seem to realize that there is nothing funny about this situation. Due to his tendencies to describe war as an assassination attempt geared specifically towards him, the majority of Yossarian’s squadron thinks he’s insane. Between the vomit-inducing, high-ranking officers (some of whom’s wives Yossarian may or may not bang), the overly friendly and perfectly patriotic soldier-boys from Iowa, and the ever-increasing amount of missions needed for his service to be completed, Yossarian finds it difficult to quell his desire to mow down happy strangers with a machine gun.
What Yossarian hates more than anything, though, is Catch-22, a term that, because of this piece of literature, is used by people all the time to describe a shitty situation that has no way out, which is sort of the theme of the whole book. The only way any of the men can be sent home is by playing the insanity card. However, he has to personally ask a doctor to give the okay to relieve him of his duty due to mental illness. But, a truly insane man would have no idea that he’s crazy, so someone claiming that he’s crazy enough to go home is proof enough that he actually isn’t. And that, my friend, is Catch-22: the book’s convoluted and annoying namesake.
The whole book functions on that frustrating formula, from the hilarious arguments between characters that just go in circles, never coming to any kind of real conclusion, down to Heller’s style of writing. The unique format of Catch-22 is one of my very favorite things about it. Like I already said, plot is centered around the experiences and misadventures of Captain Yossarian. But, each chapter is based on a different character. Throughout the novel, there are a lot of plot lines and stories revisited and retold from the perspective of the chapter’s title character, giving the reader a mind-fucking level of understanding, which adds more depth to the comic and often disturbing nature of different scenarios that have already been seen before.
Honestly, I could go on about why you should read Catch-22 for another ten pages, but I won’t do that because I would like you to believe that I’m not insane. Just read it. There’s gore, buxom whores, battles, a plethora of deaths, and characters that you will love, hate, and love to hate all at the same time. It’s also clever enough to be the funniest book you’ve ever read without negating or sugarcoating the brutality of war. By the end, you feel like you’ve been based on the island of Pianosa with these men in 1943. I’ve read more books that I can count, and there isn’t anything else like it. I’m sure you can get it on your fancy e-books.
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