Catch-22 by Joseph Heller—Book Review

I finished Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 many months ago — I’ve kept pushing the review further and further off because this is one of the classics, it’s loved by many, disliked by some, downright hated by a chosen few. I find myself decidedly in the camp of the first, as this novel illustrated the absurdism of war through examples that will have you either grasping at your sides with laughter or blinking slowly, trying to comprehend what the hell just happened.

It is a difficult book to penetrate, at first. Heller thinks little of chronology, the structure of his chapters a mess that is at once brilliant and confounding; the opening begins in media res, with Yossarian pretending to be both sick and crazy for who-knows-which time. Unafraid to hop from one character’s circumstances to another, Heller uses an omniscient narrator to sketch out the daily life of the soldiers of the U.S. Air Army. He does so in a way that extends to far more than just these characters, encompassing the entirety of the army, of any army, even of every army. The objections to war, after all, should not be examined in a case-by-case basis.

Once you become acquainted with the military and its maddening mechanisms, Heller’s thesis statement begins to fall into place:

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.

Ironic, isn’t it? This circularity is the bread and butter of so much of Heller’s seminal work, and though other examples of this never failed to garner a laugh, chortle or chuckle from me, these became ever more histeric as I continued my sixteen-hour journey across a text that is increasingly pessimistic about the nature of modern society in all its paradoxic, violent and capitalistic glory.

There is something of a postmodernist precursor to this book, something that so well captures the pulse of a movement that was just beginning to arise in the sixties (Catch-22 was published in 1961) that you can’t help but applaud Heller for taking the measure of so much of the postmodernist essence:

It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.

This codifies so much of my experience with postmodernism!…And the distance from this to Angela Carter isn’t that much of a stretch, is it?

I listened to Catch-22 as narrated by Trevor White whose reading brought the characters to life and made the dialogue jump off the page. I recommend you give that particular audiobook a listen — it’s well-worth the Audible credit!

And, before I close this review off, may I say that Milo Minderbinder is one of the most brilliant characters used to satirize capitalism and the notion of free market, ever? The Mess Officer of the Air Force base that most of the book is set up at, is the beating heart of a pyramid scheme that puts all others to shame; Milo is a hell of a guy, and he’s almost as funny as he is scary.

I could write about Catch-22‘s insane cast for days, but alas, I’ve got plenty of other reviews to write. This is one I’ll be coming back to, reading and rereading, and something tells me no two reads will be the same. Just writing this review is enough to fill me with excitement over the possibility of experiencing the narrative Joseph Heller constructed with such impeccable care. If you’ve heard that this is one of the finest novels of the 20th century…well, you’ve heard right.

The Lessons Never Learned (The War Eternal #02) by Rob J. Hayes – Book Review

The second act of a fantasy trilogy is the one a series lives or dies by. A first impression is important, but following up on the promises the opening of a series makes…well, many a novel has faltered there. The Lessons Never Learned, however, does an admirable job of following up on the threads first […]

The Lessons Never Learned (The War Eternal #02) by Rob J. Hayes – Book Review

The Faith Machine by Tone Milazzo — Book Review (Storytellers On Tour)

The Faith Machine is one of the strangest, most bizarre books I’ve read in recent memory, and no less fun for it. With spies, psychic abilities, tons of action and betrayal, Milazzo’s novel channels Cold War thrillers mixed with almost Marvel-scale superpowers in a juggling act that was consistently entertaining throughout!

Where shall I begin? This novel follows a three-act structure, the first taking place in Africa, the second in America, and the third in North Korea; each one takes about a hundred-and-something pages of this 392-page novel, and each has enough going on to make for its own tiny novella, if the author had so chosen.

There are plenty of laughs to be had in The Faith Machine, based on all kinds of hilarious situations and exchanges between characters, as well as plenty of pop references. The novel is hilarious enough to make you forget all about the fact that this is an “ESPionage” story, unafraid to pull its punches, willing to go in some dark, disturbing places. Some of the imagery is downright shocking, and the trials some of the character

And the characters are a likable lot, all eight of the ensemble. There’s Dr. Park, the leader of the team, a Korean-American psychologist tasked wtih the enormous responsibility of keeping seven Cards (psychic spies), unstable one and all, together, as they . I won’t go over each and every one of the Cards, but I thought they made for wonderful characters. They’re bursting with personality from the very first time you come across them on the page:

A dusky young woman in an AC/DC belly shirt came running down the drive, swinging an ax after a man in a dirty T-shirt and boxers. “Jacob! I told you I didn’t wanna be on the internet!” Her unkempt brown hair bounced with her wild gait as she closed in.
Gabby stopped trying to kill Jacob whe she sawPark and Ainia. “Oh, hi, Park! What are you doin’ here?” She let the ax hit the ground.

Few things better than ax-wielding ladies in AC/DC shirts, I always say. I appreciate how divergant the cast is — these are folks from all walks of life, and the author does an admirable job of giving them unique, nuanced voices. For the most part — occasionally, a line read across as unpolished or as the author’s unbridled commentary, but that was a very, very rare occurance indeed! Further, I would’ve liked some more time spent with the leader of the ensemble, Dr. Park, whose last stretch of development I can’t help but feel didn’t conclude so much as stop in place.

The twists and turns are a delight — so many red herrings, very well executed. I did sense the last big twist coming, but a few of the smaller ones along the way blindsided me, which is something I am all for!

I admired the prose — it nails that pulpy feel of Cold War-era spy thrillers. The style is clear, exact, always directing the reader into any given scene with precision.

I will say, I’m glad I did not read the entire blurb on Goodreads before I picked this one up, because it spoils the first third of the novel. Bit of a strange choice, that.

My score for The Faith Machine is 4/5 stars! It had some elements I wasn’t sold on, but make no mistake, this is a solid sci-fi thriller, one well-worth your time.

Catalyst by Tracy Richardson – Book Review (Ultimate Blog Tour)

DNF’d at 45%.

Catalyst is one of those rare books that I just couldn’t continue on with — I found very little that worked for me in this piece of paranormal disaster fiction.

The prose is servicable — neither complex nor beautiful, it does provide crisp, clear description of what is going on, of who is speaking to whom, and of any details that need the reader’s attention drawn. The main characters are teenagers and university students, all of whom have individual traits but all, except one, have the same ideological background and share in each other’s beliefs to such an extent that I often found myself unsure which character corresponded to which name tag. I cannot, for the life of me, picture how any of them look — which speaks to me of descriptions that lacked that extra something that makes characters memorable and easy to visualize. The dialogue was good — it wasn’t stilted, the conversations were written well and the back-and-forth was believable.

I didn’t like the protagonist — her point of view failed to suck me in, I found her inner monologue hard to believe and, frankly, obnoxious.

Now, about the environmental issue at hand here, and how it is discussed. I’ve been reading a lot of climate change/disaster fiction of late — just yesterday, I wrapped up a Disaster Studies course at uni, and I’ve realised there are two kinds of disaster fiction books. The first makes its points with eloquence and style, introduces not just one side of a given argument but both of them, and offers a weighed argument towards the dangers of climate change and humanity’s central part in causing it — one example that does admirable job at it is Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver.

The second beats you over the head with its messaging, without bothering to dig in real deep in what drives the everyday proponents of fracking in the USA. Yes, one of the characters talks non-stop about how fracking “will make America energy sufficient and get those Arab Muslims off our back” or something along those lines, but that’s surface-level reasoning; the author could’ve, should have, dug further into the other side’s argument. And hey, maybe she did — there’s over a hundred pages left of this book, but those are pages I won’t ever read. From what I did read, Catalyst leans more heavily towards this second kind of disaster fiction than towards the first.

There’s little of substance here — not the kind of substance that could make someone who does not believe in the environmental dangers of fracking to buy into them. A book like Catalyst seems to alienate precisely the people who most need to be convinced of the massive environmental dangers of fracking, and that is a shame.

Maybe you’ll like it — if you enjoy talk about the Fifth Dimension and living energy that can be created through meditation and communion with nature. Perhaps you’ll like the characters, or you won’t take the same issues I did with the environmental issues and how they were covered. For me, however, this just did not work. My score for Catalyst is 2 out of 5 stars.