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Catch - 22 | Joseph Heller | The Litertarian
When I was 17, I had a phase of desperately wanting to feel well read (a goal I now realize is unattainable), so I gobbled up everything in the classics section of my library that seemed half interesting. I wanted to be clever, witty, to understand and make obscure references like a bona-fide resident of Stars Hollow. My motivations were questionable, but I look back on that period of my life with fondness. I learned who I was during that year, and what I believed in. That’s when I first read Catch-22. Catch-22 was the first book I remember laughing out loud to. It is hilarious. The shinnanigans in this book are downright silly, and a delight to read. However, it is also a book about war, and war is not silly, or funny. These characters are out on the (fictional) island of Pianosa flying mission after mission in bombers, hoping against hope they’ll be able to go home before they are shot down by anti-aircraft guns over enemy territory. But of course they’ll never get that lucky, because they have an ambitious commander who keeps raising the number of required missions before being discharged in order to make himself look better to his superiors. There’s a large cast of characters in this book, and sometimes the timeline gets a little messy as to what is happening when, but for me it wasn’t hard to keep my bearings. The story is incredibly detailed, but not every detail is necessary. There are motifs that pop up again and again throughout the book to remind you of who is who and what they’re up to. This was the second time I read it, and I some of the details I hadn’t retained with the first reading were like word candy as I rediscovered them. The characters in this novel shine. There is Dunbar, who noticed that life seems to slow down when you’re bored and has made it his life’s mission to be as bored as possible at all times to extend his life. Doc Danika, the squadron doctor who is bitter because he was drafted and takes it out on all of his patients. If he has to be there, why should he medically discharge someone else? If someone gets to go home, it should be him! Orr, who put crabapples in his cheeks, and Applebee, with the flies in his eyes. Milo Minderbinder, the mess officer with an eye for a deal. Major Major, who gets promoted to the rank of Major just so his name can be Major Major Major Major but who is terrified of any actual responsibility. Then there’s Clevenger, often the voice of reason among such characters as Yossarian (who does everything he can think of to get excused from service) and Dunbar, allowing for Heller to really make the reader think about the issues at hand. Yossarian is our main character, who causes quite a pickle when he starts signing his name Irving Washington and Washington Irving on his censor letters after censoring whichever words that took his fancy in the moment. He is constantly of the brink of flying the required number of missions to go home, but every time he goes in to be dismissed, the number of missions has gone up by a factor of ten. The writing in this book is absolutely brilliant. I’m a total fangirl. Some of my favorite lines were characterizations. One about Clevenger, “He knew everything about literature except how to enjoy it.” And the other Major Major, “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major, it had been all three.” These are the kinds of lines I would never dream up in a million years for a work of my own, and are just a small taste of the brilliance in this novel. That crazy bastard may be the only sane one left. This book is full of brilliant paradoxes, the greatest of them all being Catch-22. If a man is sane enough to ask to go home from duty, then he has to stay and fly missions, since he is obviously sane. If he stays and flies his missions, he is obviously crazy, but as soon as he asks to go home, he is sane again and has to fly them. And who is the real enemy, when the people in charge are the ones putting their lives at risk every single day? Dare I say it again? This novel is a brilliant commentary on war that stands the test of time, while still providing a snapshot of what the world might have been like during the Great Wars of the early twentieth century for those who fought them. Yes, there is humor, and yes there is devestation, but somehow, the two things work together to create a book that is a true classic. Pages | 453Publishing Date | 1961Goodreads Page | Catch-22Book Depository (affiliate link) | Paperback