Days 5 – 9
I guess it’s time for the long overdue review of Catch-22.
It’s a book for crazy people, of crazy people and by crazy person (no offence, Joseph Heller, I mean that in the most complimentary way possible). All this craziness, instead of putting one in a mind to throw oneself off of a bridge for being sane, is, for some unfathomable reason, very uplifting. It assures you of the fact that in all those moments when you think you are losing your mind, you are, in fact, not losing it or even close to losing it. If you want to truly lose your mind, enlist in the army and then, join the war. That’s where the true magic happens!
Catch-22 is the story of a young man, Yossarian (what kind of a name is Yossarian?), during his stint as a bombardier in World war II. It narrates the story of his friends, each with his distinctive eccentricities; it introduces us to people like Colonel Cathcart and General Peckem who settle into administrative positions and forget the life of a soldier and it takes us through the weird lives of an even weirder doctor, chaplain and Major Major. Through each of their descriptions, the story moves forward in an extremely non-linear fashion.
In my experience, most stories written in a non-linear frame tend to lose their reader to confusion or to irritation as same events are being narrated over and over. However, Joseph Heller pulls it off in a way that leaves little to complaint. His sequences might end at point A and pick up at point C. But, the fill-in-the-blank story of point B is covered so adroitly, that the reader hardly notices the discontinuity past 3 pages in of each chapter.
Of course, when I say a story, I mean it in the loosest of senses in this case. For Catch-22 is more of an anthology of the various Catch-22 situations that arise in the army during war than an actual novel with an introduction, body and conclusion. The book starts off as if we were in the middle of a story.
“It was love at first sight.
As soon as Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell in love with him.”
The chaplain mentioned in these first lines is not mentioned again till the end of the chapter, however. Even then, it is hardly given to understand why Yossarian should fall in love with him. In fact, if you close the book at the end of The Texan, you are probably in a sea of confusion. Yet, nobody would close the book at the end of The Texan because of the simple reason, that you want to read more, you want to know more and you want find out who in the blazes is the chaplain and why in the blazes is Yossarian in love with him. But, I wouldn’t advice holding your breath for that moment of discovery. In fact, there are many things in that book that are never fully explained and that need to be accepted at their face value. If it is so, then it is so.
But, Heller’s style of writing is so pleasing to the mind, in that that it makes you chuckle from the very bottom of your grey matter, that you hardly notice the whys and hows of things. He writes in Yossarian’s voice and mocks every character in his book. Everybody, including Yossarian, to him is a caricature whose faults are exaggerated and whose goodness of heart is indubitably accepted and with this very tone, he makes you laugh and laugh and within the laughter, you suddenly realise you are crying and then, comes the silence that breaks your heart. Because Joseph Heller is one of those rare writers who can break your heart.
Don’t be frightened though. I can promise you, that when you close the book finally, you can walk away with a smile on your face.
I think the reason I got so attached to his characters, without even realising it, is because Heller primarily deals with their fears. This is not a book about glorifying war or glorifying war veterans. This is a book that talks about war while it is being fought and has no qualms in pointing out, that how many ever medals you might get or covet, when you are out there and facing the gunfire, you are about an inch away from shitting your pants. Catch-22 makes its point very unabashedly and somehow, when Yossarian refuses to go on any more missions because he doesn’t want to die, instead of calling him a coward and turning away uncomfortably, you agree with him and hope that he gets away with it. After all, how many of us are brave every day and how many of us are cowards every day? In the end, as Yossarian believes, as long as you are still breathing and still waking up every morning, who cares about labels or ranks or medals?
It’s life that matters.