No, this is not another post about my troubles in job hunting. This is a book review. Yes, you read that right. This is a book review of a United Statesian classic by Joseph Heller. Catch-22 is not a novel I’d usually be inclined to read, but my curiosity about the origins of the phrase led me to it and, after completing the book, I think I finally fully understand the saying along with why it’s stuck around.
First, a little background. Catch-22 was published in 1961 when World War II was still fairly fresh in people’s minds. The (entirely fictional) novel revolves around a U.S. bombardier during World War II named Yossarian who just wants to go home after completing his requisite number of missions, which his commanding officer only continues to increase throughout the book. He could ask to be relieved of duty, but here is where Catch-22 comes in: one is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous missions, but if he asks to be relieved of duty, then he is proven to be of sound mind and, thus, ineligible of being relieved (remind you of anything?). There is but one word to sum up this book: Fantastic!
This was a phenomenal read. In essence, the book was filled to the brim with ridiculous catch-22s that were both hilarious in their blatant contradictions and disturbing in their effectiveness to keep corrupt men in power and good men disadvantaged (I’m specifying men here because the women weren’t particularly important – not surprising considering the era this takes place in). The main character was absolutely hysterical in his desperation to get out of combat duty, yet, at the same time, incredibly relatable. (However, I must admit, I’m not entirely certain if Yossarian is extremely intelligent or completely crazy.) Although it was continually pointed out how selfish and unpatriotic it was for him to try getting out of the war effort, I couldn’t help but be on his side. He did his part, he performed his duty, it’s not his fault his superiors continue to unjustly increase the number of missions he has to do. He deserves to go home!
Heller’s wit was on par as were the dark moments in his novel. Because it is a war story, it only makes sense that there are intense battle scenes described and Heller did a stunning job of writing them. I felt the fear, the chaotic confusion, of war in his writing. I couldn’t put the book down at moments like these because of how invested I was in seeing how everyone fared by the end of it all. There were a number of times I found myself on the verge of tears due to the horror described.
Then there is the writing style which, I must admit, is fairly atypical, which is probably why I liked it 😉 Catch-22 wasn’t entirely chronological. Instead, it sort of focused on a different character with each chapter while still keeping Yossarian the central thread. The transitions from character to character, usually by means of reiterating lines of dialogue, could have been disorienting, but Heller handled it so well that it merely aided in the flow of the story.
Though the message Heller is sending with his novel, much like the various catch-22s in the book itself, is a bit mixed, it is also very poignant: the only way out of an inescapable predicament is to pick the option that isn’t an option (that’s what I got from it anyway, but I’m sure there’s a wide variety of other interpretations. I just picked the one I found most inspiring.) Overall, Catch-22 is an incredible read which I am glad has been considered a classic for the last fifty years.
For more glowing commentary on this book, check out my YouTube video here! Warning: video contains spoilers.