Over the last few months, I’ve been reading Catch 22 by Joseph Heller.

It’s a longer book, with a meandering storyline initially which follows the wartime travails of John Yossarian in the waning missions of WWII.  John is a pilot flying missions dropping bombs and avoiding220px-Catch22 shrapnel fire from the land defenses over which he and his comrades are forced to fly over repeatedly.

The higher ups in this fictitious army are bordering on evil, continuing to increase the number of flights that must be taken by each person, thereby increasing the likelihood that they die in mission.  Yossarian is bordering on insane through the continual attempts to keep him airborne, during which he must question the sanity of others who do not share his perspective.

Honestly, the book is difficult to follow initially.  There are so many characters to meet and little continuing plot.  It jumps from perspective to perspective, with ideas displayed differently depending on when and who is the subject.  Most chapters are named after a character with more information about them after–but the continual back and forth between the chapters make it somewhat nonsensical–which may very well have been the point.

Heller’s writing style did not fail to make me laugh on more than one occasion, often times repetitive as a the characters continued to play “who’s on first.”  The world of Catch 22 is something satirical.  The very idea of Catch 22 is a paradox:

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.”

Due to the book, the term Catch 22 has entered and maintained its place in the English lexicon as a logical paradox.  Prior to reading this book, I’d heard it stated many times but never truly understood the implications.  The term is consistently used throughout the book, sometimes in tragic ways, sometimes as a joke.  But war is not a joke.  So how can a book about war be a joke?  This seems to be a revolving door with Heller.

I almost quit reading about three quarters into the book.  Terrible time to quit a book, but it really didn’t seem to be letting up on the continual lack of direction.  I then looked up a review online which pointed out that the latter parts of the book were less whimsical, more violent and war focused.  It was true, thankfully.  The end of the book actually tied things together for me much better, and provided some much needed long term perspective.

Strangely enough, I actually found this book to be very similar to A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.  There subject matter is no where near one another, with the former a very somber subject matter slowly making its way the dredges of human existence and the latter a walkabout with an oafish indulgent utterly devoid of social understanding or responsibility.  But the writing of both is humorous, and bordering on lunacy in most areas.  Toole followed a more direct line of thought, but both can be described as creating ridiculous worlds.  There is a real similarity to the endings of both as well.

I’m very glad to have finished this one, and glad to have read it in the first place.  I have a sincere doubt most folks would find it enjoyable throughout (I didn’t) but for those who enjoy reading and writing in ways that challenges you to think differently about a work’s purpose, it’s worth it.