I’ve read a lot of books in my life, but sometimes I still find myself at a loss when faced with the sheer number of classics I apparently missed out on during my youth. You know those books everyone was forced to read in high school and college? Well, I somehow avoided every single one of them. So now as penance, I am making an effort to scour my library’s audio book section to broaden my horizons and fill in all these literary gaps I keep discovering. My most recent acquisition, Catch 22, was definitely not what I expected.
At the heart of Catch-22 resides the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero endlessly inventive in his schemes to save his skin from the horrible chances of war.
His problem is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions that he’s committed to flying, he’s trapped by the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, the bureaucratic rule from which the book takes its title: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he’s sane and therefore, ineligible to be relieved.
Wow. I would have hated being force to read this book as a kid. Even listening to it as an audio book was pretty grinding at first. The characters are obtuse, the dialogue moronic, and the storytelling disjointed. I admit that I seriously considered returning this novel to the library before I hit the half-way point.
But I’m glad I pushed through. The farther I got into the story, the more I couldn’t get enough. Yes, the characters are obtuse, but the story is meant to be a satire of war and the state of the government during World War II. The main character, Yossarian seems cowardly when you first encounter him, avoiding combat duty by feigning liver ailments and other issues, but you end up rooting for him as he does everything he can to survive in the chaos of war. The dialogue is often confusing and hard to follow, but it mirrors the confusion and unfairness of wartime policies and provisions which often created unnecessary hardships for some while padding the pockets of those higher up on the ladder of life.
Author Joseph Heller uses a unique storytelling style that appears haphazard, often difficult to follow, but inevitably creates a sense of suspense and foreshadowing as the story builds toward its climax. Heller’s writing style is poetic, painting distinct imagery that varies from the peace and beauty of young friends lying on a sandy shore drenched in sunlight, to the opposite end of the spectrum, vividly describing a grizzly rain of blood and organs that shower these poor friends in pieces of their companion only a few paragraphs later.
This novel is not for the faint of heart. It is about war. It is about doing everything necessary to survive in a time when power is prized and life is cheap. There is murder, prostitution, smuggling, rape, mutilation, lies, revenge… But as long as there are people out there fighting for what is right, hope, friendship, and loyalty still prevail.
I give Catch 22 four out of five stars. It was a difficult book to get into, but I can certainly see why it’s become a classic.