Friday, May 12, 2006

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

 (Book Review)

I suspect that most of you have already read this book and once again I'm a bit behind the times by just reading it now.

This book is often mentioned in the same breath as "Slaughter House 5" and on the surface they have a lot of similarities. Both books are written by authors who fought in World War II. Both authors found themselves unable to write about their war experiences in traditional narrative, and so turned to comedy instead. Both books were published in the 1960s when the nation was focused on another war. And both books take a non-linear perspective and jump around in time.

That's where the similarities end, however. "Slaughter House 5" was very dry humor, but "Catch-22" is bouncing off the walls with silliness.

One of my first thoughts when reading this book was, "Wow, this is pretty avant-garde stuff. I can't believe this was written way back in 1961."

Second thought: "Actually, wait a minute, yes I can. This book feels very tied into the humor of the time. Most of the book reads like the Marx Brothers had written it. There are also lots of parts that are reminiscent of vaudeville, and I was often reminded of Abbott and Costello's 'Who's on First.' Like 'Who's on First' many of the sketches in the book are based on one character living in his own whacky world, and the other character refusing to understand what is going on.

There's not a lot of consistency in terms of comic roles. A character can play the straight man in one scene, and then be the silly man in the next scene. It all seems based on what serves the plot best.

Although I use the word "plot" loosely because much of the book isn't so much based on a plot as it is just a running series of gags. At first I got tired of this book very quickly. I like the "Marx Brothers" but an hour and a half movie is about the limit for that kind of humor. A 561 page book feels like overkill.

The book is anything for a laugh. Every line is a joke, or a set-up for the next joke. Its a bit like those "Airplane" movies. There are so many gags flying around so fast that some of them are bound to be funny even if the majority are groaners. There was usually something funny on each page, but because of the books fractured nature I found it hard to absorb myself for long periods, and initially had to read this book in small doses.

If you stick with the book though, a plot does start to emerge. And near the end especially the themes of anti-militarism do start to emerge.

This book reminds me a lot of the John Lennon film, "How I won the War."
Actually I remember once reading a review of "How I Won the War" that said, "The point of this film is that war is ridiculous and that it's conducted by idiots. But this isn't a strong anti-war message. Would war be any better if it was conducted by people who knew what they were doing?"

This same question could be applied to "Catch-22". The strength of this book though is that it draws you in, so near the end you actually do start to see the war through the bizarre lense of Yossarian, the main character. You do feel that its ridiculous that enlisted men have to throw away their lives on the whim of commanding officers, or that people should be killed just for living in the wrong city. Like all great satires, this book makes you realize how bizarre life actually is.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Helen Keller was a member of the Socialist Party and actively campaigned and wrote in support of the working classes from 1909 to 1921. She supported Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs in each of his campaigns for the presidency. Helen Keller also joined the famous labor union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), in 1912 after she felt that parliamentary socialism was "sinking in the political bog." Helen Keller wrote for the IWW between 1916 and 1918.
These details were left out of the various Hollywood movies of Helen's life.

Link of the Day
I don't reckon this Ray McGovern flap needs the help of publicity from my blog, but I can't recommend these videos enough. It's amazing the bald faced lies he catches Rumsfeild on.

First of all , this video from MSNBC, complete with fact checking the exchange, is a must see.

Secondly check out this interview between Ray McGovern and Paula Zahn. My favorite part is when McGovern says its ironic he was trained to analyze lies from foreign leaders, and now he has to use it on his own government.

Also this interview with Anderson Cooper illustrates how much disinformation the Bush administration has put out. It makes you think about how much trouble the democracy is in.

As always, no one puts it like the Daily Show. They put together a nice little collage of the event and the media coverage.

If you're on a slow connection and can't watch videos, at least check out the article "My Meeting With Rumsfeld by Ray McGovern"

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: Book Review (Scripted)

1 comment:

Harivansh Rai Bachchan said...

It is one of the funniest books I will ever read. It gets better when you read it a second or a third time as you understand each situation more profoundly. There is a different kind of humor, prevalent in this book - and the non linear narration creates a sort of confusion as you read it for the first time. Once you get a grasp of this book it is amazing. War is a terrible tragedy that can happen and this book takes a satirical view on the whole concept of war much like the "Dr. Strange love" movie.