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Wonderfully chaotic, and probably closer to the truth about war (even in this day and age) than it means to be, Catch-22 follows the exploits of a number of bomber crewmen stationed on the Mediterranean island of Pianosa during WWII. Of course, it’s entirely fictional, but that’s not to say there isn’t a ring of truth to the proceedings; even knowing very little about the inner workings of the armed services.

If you think Pulp Fiction was at all original in its use of a jump-around timeline following differenct characters with intertwining stories, Catch-22 should be an education for you – it does the same kind of thing, and was written decades before Pulp Fiction. Over the course of the book, you become familiar with a number of characters (and, this being set during a war, there are a fair number of dumbasses and dead men), but the main character is one Yossarian, who since the war began has become fixated on the idea of staying alive (there are many far less healthier fixations around), and much of the book is about (in one way or another) his attempts to do so, the main feature of which is his determination to stop having to fly combat missions and get sent home, or at the least go AWOL.

There are some truly surreal moments in this book, and thankfully they aren’t simply plonked down in the middle of a chapter, they sneak up on you so that before you know it, you realise you’ve just read several pages that sound something like a crazy dream, or maybe a vivd trip. An interesting theory concerning these moments of madness occurred to me right near the end of the book – i’m slow on this kind of thing because, at least the first time around, i try not to analyse a book – we find out near the beginning that Yossarian has been refusing to take his malaria tablets. Well, don’t you get a fever when you get malaria? which suggests most of the story could in fact be Yossarian experiencing the deoths of fever. This idea occurred to me after the many reappearances of Nately’s whore trying to kill Yossarian – it seemed to me that maybe Heller had written this bit so obviously crazy that it would remind you that Yossarian could simply be in a fever.

Anyway, Catch-22 is a truly great book. I’d only class it as humour in a broad sense – there are funny moments, but overall it’s too depressingly close to reality to be laugh-out-loud funny, and I get the feeling there’s much subtlety I didn’t understand or pick up on. Some people will probably find the time-jumping and focus-changing too much – it can be difficult to follow the threads at times, although I think Heller manages to restrain himself from twisting them too much.

(Post originally made at my blog)

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About jadester48

  • Nyx

    “If you think Pulp Fiction was at all original in its use of a jump-around timeline following differenct characters with intertwining stories, Catch-22 should be an education for you – it does the same kind of thing, and was written decades before Pulp Fiction.”

    Didn’t Slaugherhouse Five beat both of them to the punch?

  • jadester

    i dunno, i haven’t read it. All i know is when Pulp Fiction came out loads of people lauded it’s “original” approach, yet Catch-22 was written decades earlier.

  • Bob A. Booey

    This is like the geek archetype: virtually every pseudo-intellectual who visits a bookstore now and then out there between the ages of 20-45 lists Vonnegut (only “Slaughterhouse Five” gets mentioned, of course) and Heller as two of their favorite authors. It’s a tired fashion to worship two writers who aren’t particularly radical, influential, or taken all that seriously by academics or literary critics. I suppose they’re better than other fashionable old farts like Hunter S. Thompson and Burroughs, but you don’t see a lot of geek chic buzz for literary lions like Roth, Pynchon, Mailer, or Bellow. I won’t list any women or writers of color since they don’t seem to make it into the geek reading lists very often.

    Someone with more time and knowledge of the subject should write something about the geek canon, the predictably identical library possessed by virtually every semi-educated white male in the United States. Literature isn’t for clones. I’ll try to think of other books like Slaughterhouse Five and Catch-22 that belong on this list after getting some sleep.

    That is all.

  • Bob A. Booey

    If you’ve ever read “On the Road” while sitting in a Starbucks, you might be a douchebag.

  • Bob A. Booey

    If you refer to “Catcher in the Rye” or Gatsby in normal conversation, you might be a douchebag poseur.

    You know you’re a geek douchebag when you’ve bought Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” because you know him as the “wheelchair guy from the Simpsons.” Go watch Star Wars.

    If you own an Ayn Rand book (much less consider her your favorite philosopher or even a “philosopher” at all), there’s just no hope for you whatsoever.

    I encourage all comments on this topic (and additions to my list) to borrow the Jeff Foxworthy school of criticism. He’s making a comeback, you know.

    That is all.

  • Bob A. Booey

    How could I forget Ray Bradbury and “Fahrenheit 451″? I guess I’m not too tired to remember some of the list after all.

    That is all for now.

  • Shark

    If you’ve ever called people who read classic literature “a douchebag” — then you might be a pedantic elitist motard dickhead who just discovered their post-graduate brain and likes to take it out and play with it in public.

    If you’ve ever used the anachronistic (1980s) cliches:


    — you’re probably all of the above — and can claim that hideous, mindless, vapid, flabby decade as your “formative years.”

    If you’ve ever considered that there’s any real difference between “a tired fashion to worship two writers who aren’t particularly radical, influential…” and the works “…taken seriously by academics or literary critics…”

    then you’ve probably never been to America.

    If you’re glad to hear that some people still value reading — and that there exists a “pseudo-intellectual who visits a bookstore…between the ages of 20-45″ — then you’re probably …



    That is all.

  • jadester

    i dunno if BAB’s comments were meant to be directed at me, but i never claimed to have read any other of Heller’s books. I simply think that Catch-22 is pretty damn good.
    And none of my mates read much, certainly not novels, so my opinions are my own, even if they happen to be similar to those of others.
    I certainly don’t read as a “fashion” thing, in fact as far as i know reading is not in fashion in this part of england.
    Similarly, if the comments were directed at Nyx, all he/she did was to mention another book using a supposeduly (i haven’t read it so don’t know if this is true) style of jumping about a timeline that was written before this one.

  • Eric Olsen

    Jon, there isn’t the slightest doubt that Catch 22 is a towering classic: hilarious, savage, humane, satire that mirrors reality with near-perfect topography. There is absolutely nothing wrong with zeroing in on the classics, of which Slaughterhouse Five is one as well. And I believe Catch 22 and Vonnegut up through about Breakfast of Champions is taken very seriously, as well he should be.

  • Tim Hall

    I thought real geeks read only Robert Heinlein and Ayn Rand….

    I read Catch-22 earlier this year. Now I know why people called Tony Blair’s predecessor John Major was known as “Major Major”.

    And as I have said in another thread, for some strangely inexplicable reason, the character Milo Minderbinder reminded me of Dick Cheney.

  • Jim Carruthers

    If you’ve ever used the phrase “douche-bag” without ever having douched your skanky-ass, then you really are a douche-bag.

    As they say, those who can do, those who can’t …

  • Nyx

    Anyone who names themselves after a Howard Stern character is a douchbag.

    That should go without saying.

  • Bob A. Booey

    Howard who?

    Some of your responses are rather incoherent. Do you feel good about that empty little cliche there, Jim? Feel good about that “reading in the USA is A-OK,” Sharky poo? I was too young to remember the 80s — apparently I’m growing up in your eyes, though, since I’m now post-graduate elitist pedant.

    By the way, I’m not an elitist. I’m very common. I just don’t like the banality of common taste. If I were a real elitist, I wouldn’t even bother making a comment about this stuff.

    Jade: I wasn’t talking about you so much, just people who are drawn to ONE Heller book and ONE Vonnegut book and mistake them for “classic” literature, as Sharky does. They’re not bad books or writers, don’t get me wrong. I just think they get too much attention from Internet types — perhaps it’s deserving since very few respected literature scholars do work on these two writers or take them seriously.

    I find it funny that discussions of books always list the same predictable 5-10 titles. It’s not exclusively an internet geek phenomenon, though, so don’t feel bad about it. If you go to any Borders or Barnes where the greedy multi-national corporation deigns to allow their wage slave peons to pick “staff choices,” you’ll see at least one of these same silly books that everyone has already read recommended by Jim, long-haired 20-something doofus with a goatee. I mean, if you love books (which I don’t), surely you could challenge yourself and others to read more unfamiliar material that might actually take you beyond yourself and your own narrow interests (science fiction, military, technology, futurism, wacky anecdotes about whitebread counterculture, capitalism).

    Enough of your attacks. Anyone have more books to add to the “every introverted white male with a semester of college between 20-45″ canon?

    That is all.

  • jadester

    I should explain that, going by that, your criticism is part-justified. I’m (slowly) working my way through the list at
    seeing as they are meant to be good books (OK you may not agree 100% with the list but if they’re on there then it’s likely they are at least good) and yet, though i have heard of some (and more of the authors) i had, until i read catch-22, read none of them.
    I am slowly building my bookshelves up, and seeing as these kind of books are books i know very little about, i may as well look to a list for guidance as anywhere else. Also, one of my good friends lives right near a bookshop that sells many of them (in tattered but readable condition) dirt-cheap, as in 2 or 4 for a pound, or something. So it won’t bankrupt me to buy them.

  • Bob A. Booey


    I admire your interest in reading new stuff. I wish I had more of that desire of my own these days. Read what’s interesting to you, not just what people tell you is good.

    How about this? Let’s be productive. Suggest good books that aren’t the same cliched titles that everyone brings up. Suggest books we might not have heard of but that have artistic merit and challenge the reader. Suggest books that are different and broaden the reader’s perspective, not the usual science fiction masquerading as art.

    Thanks. Suggestions for the cliche list are good clean fun too.

    That is all.

  • Bob A. Booey

    Everything after the first paragraph was directed generally, not just at Jade. Who knows? Maybe some of you will suggest interesting books for Jade (and others) to look into and read.

    That is all.

  • jadester

    you just gave me an idea for a post.
    I’ll put one together requesting book recommendations. probably post it tomorrow.
    Cheers to everyone who has commented, and anyone else who does afterwrds (i endeavour to read them all and reply if i can)

  • Dirtgrain

    “Have you ever noticed how everyone who drives faster than you is an asshole and everyone who drives slower than you is a moron?” – George Carlin.

  • Shark


    it’s kinda fun watching your attempts to define yourself as a few clicks higher on an imaginary hierarchy of “intellectuals”, ie. you’re at the stage where you notice (and disdain) the ‘college library’ of the young, budding ‘pseudo-intellectual’ who happen to be working their way through one of the many “100 greatest books” lists— which thus demonstrates your inherent superiority and level of advancement.

    (That’s a meta-poseur, duuuude.)

    Sorry about missing your age estimate, but berating some young college kid for his or her first reading of a Vonnegut or Heller sounds uniquely post-graduate (but not yet fully ‘adult’) — but hey, the day is young…


    BTW: I do find the overall analysis sorta interesting — and I like your idea of listing valuable, relatively lesser-known written works, (I’ve blogged on same a few times hereabouts) and might participate in Jade’s new thread.

    I’d also submit that your “list” of pseudo-intellectual “college library” classics might change from generation to generation. That’s an interesting sociological/historical/anthropological slant — and could tell us something about our respective eras.

    Example: My generation’s (see “prehistoric”) pseudo-intellectual college shelf invariably included works by the likes of:

    Baba Ram Dass
    John Lilly
    Carlos Castendada
    Herman Hesse
    Albert Camus
    Ken Kesey
    Dee Brown
    Black Elk
    William Tenn
    Robert Anton Wilson
    Marshall McLuhan
    Flann O’Brien
    Carl Sagan
    Loren Eisley
    Roald Dahl

    — and I’m assuming that other ‘generations’ cool college shelves might differ.


  • Shark

    Booey: “I mean, if you love books (which I don’t)…”

    Booey, no offense, but if you don’t “love” books, why the fuck are you even participating in this thread?

  • Dirtgrain

    Down with academia!
    Down with the canon!
    Down with intellectual masturbatory rigmarole that is post-graduate “critical” analysis.
    Down with phony, pithy theoretical constructs designed to allow lettered men to distinguish themselves from the masses and to look down their noses.
    Down with faux intellectualism.
    Oh shit, here comes a dialogue from Good Will Hunting:

      Chuckie: Are we gonna have a problem?
      Clark: No, no…there’s no problem here. I was just hoping you might give me some insight into the evolution of the market economy in the Southern colonies. My contention is that prior to the Revolutionary War, the economic modalities, especially in the southern colonies, could most aptly be characterized as agrarian, pre-capitalist —
      Will: Of course that’s your contention. You’re a first year grad student. You just got finished readin’ some Marxian historian — Pete Garrison probably. You’re gonna be convinced of that ’til next month when you get to James Lemon, and then you’re gonna be talkin’ about how the economies of Virginia and Pennsylvania were entrepreneurial and capitalist way back in 1740. That’s gonna last until next year — you’re gonna be in here regurgitating Gordon Wood, talkin’ about, you know, the Pre-revolutionary utopia and the capital-forming effects of military mobilization.
      Clark: Well, as a matter of fact, I won’t, because Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social —
      Will: Wood drastically — Wood ‘drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth.’ You got that from Vickers, ‘Work in Essex County,’ page 98, right? Yeah, I read that too. Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us? Do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter? Or do you…is that your thing? You come into a bar. You read some obscure passage and then pretend…you pawn it off as your own idea just to impress some girls and embarrass my friend? See the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One: don’t do that. And two: You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a f—-n’ education you coulda’ got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.
      Clark: Yeah, but I will have a degree. And you’ll be serving my kids fries at a drive-through on our way to a skiing trip.
      Will: Yeah, maybe. Yeah, but at least I won’t be unoriginal.
  • snobbing the snobs

    it’s deserving since very few respected literature scholars do work on these two writers or take them seriously.

    Every notice that no one cares what the “respected literature scholars” say? Your entire argument is based on listening to authority to tell us what we should like.

    You just sound pissed off that so many people have read these books and liked the ones they aren’t supposed to like. I’m sorry that you didn’t like them, but it turns out those books resonate strongly for a lot of people. And that is the whole point.