I first heard the name Yossarian on Pajiba. He’s always been one of my favorite commenters; scathing, but fair. And now that I’ve finally read Catch-22, I love him even more.
John Yossarian is a bombardier stationed in Italy during World War II. Once you complete a certain number of missions, you’re supposed to get a ticket home, but his commanding officer, Colonel Cathcart, keeps raising the number of missions. Desperate to leave before he gets killed, he hopes to be deemed insane in order to be excused from flying any further combat missions. The only problem is Catch-22: You can only be excused from combat missions if you’re insane, but asking to be excused proves that you’re sane.
Heller’s a great writer with a gift for the absurd. Parts of the book are laugh-out-loud funny, and others are frustrating because they’re so convoluted. In between all the absurdity, there are moments where the reader, through Yossarian, is faced with the brutality of war, and of life in general.
It also satirizes bureaucracy. Most of us can identify with this, I think. It’s hard not to imagine that the powers that be are wasting their time on frivolous matters when the wheels of bureaucracy turn so slowly.
The book ends on a bit of a high note (considering the valleys of despair that it dwells in towards the end), but even that high note is couched in absurdity. It makes me wonder whether Heller just wanted to leave his reader smiling, or whether his point was that the only way to escape the absurdity was to embrace the absurdity.
Wait, isn’t that a Catch-22?