the freedom to read | 2018.04.11

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller | Review

Heller, Joseph_Catch-22

 Publishing: New York : HarperAudio, 2007 (Originally published 1961)

 Genres: Satire

 Pages: 524 | Audio Length: 19 1/2 hours

 Formats: Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

 Source: MCL

What intrigued me most, as deeply nerdy as it may be, about this book was its narrative style. I have a prejudice perhaps that is always asking why modern (by which I mean current; not modern in the literary sense that’s taught in your typical college literature courses) writers don’t play with things like nonlinear narrative style anymore. But maybe I need to update my reading list (probably this is truer than I’m ready to admit).

And if you’re going to read this one but feel pressed for time, I’d highly recommend checking your local library for the unabridged audiobook version performed by Jay O. Sanders. What a performance, Mr. Sanders! Truly. Well done!

Littered with colorful characters such as the overly logical and ever-frustrated John Yossarian, the slippery entrepreneur Milo Minderbinder, the horse chestnut-cheeks-stuffed Orr (that name, like many of the others, is no mistake), and the ever-indecisive Major — De Coverley (artfully pronounced in turns as Major Aha, Mhm, and Haha De Coverley for the audio version), the book fits and starts its way through the nagging questions of why war and why the societal ever-grasping for prescribed success. Using each character in turn, Heller presents the book’s main premise of circular reasoning to trot out the narrative events. George R. R. Martin’s well-popularized Game Of Throne and James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse series are the most readily available examples I can think of that also utilise the third person limited perspective in our modern (a.k.a. current) literature realm (if you have other shouts to give…well, the LEAVE A REPLY feature is below, so let’s trade literary passions, friend). But I still think Heller’s use of this device would be hard put to find its true competitor. And this because, again, it informs his book’s theme of how political and economic goals are inescapably perspective-based.

Before reading Heller’s masterpiece, I always wondered what the phrase Catch-22 had been created to describe. Turns out, it’s anything you can contrive! Spin, spin, spin is the name of the game in the book’s maybe-not-so alternate universe. So, why do high school literature teachers force this deeply intellectual and sometimes confusing read on their students? Probably for the same reason my obsessively conservative parents pulled me out of my first AP Literature class when they saw this title (among Flowers for Algernon, 1984, and Slaughterhouse Five) on the reading list. Because it masterfully illustrates the subtle truths of our postmodernist, curious, and at times deeply troubling culture as a species.

The book has a very Zen pull as it nears its conclusion, almost as if Heller knew the reader would need time to exhale. A kind of urging to escape from the craziness that is our overly-sophisticated society, where simply surviving becomes a constant struggle against regulators and endless forms to be filled out (my day-job as an insurance analyst makes this resonate all too close to home). Is there any escape from the machine of systems and cultural expectations? Heller leaves room for inspiring conjecture. Need we say more?


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