Sunday, March 29, 2009

On "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller *****

I come back to this novel after close to twenty years. I've been meaning to reread it for several years now and finally, finally got around to it. It's interesting to read a book so fondly remember after so many years gone by. I am astounded by how amazing The Sun Also Rises was after twenty years, how similar my reaction to Dharma Bums seemed to the first read, and how different Catch-22 seemed on this read. I remember Catch-22 as an amazing book, in part because of its ability to elicit an emotional reaction on so many of its pages. I remember, as perhaps the best example of that, a chapter in which I was laughing at its start and crying at its end. The particular chapter was one in which a fighter pilot comes down too low to a beach where folks are hanging out and ends up cutting a man in half. This time around, I couldn't find the funny part of the chapter; the funny part seemed buried back in the previous chapter. But then, as a whole, I found the book not as humorous as last time. I remember laughing out loud on page after page. This time, I may have laughed out loud twice. Sure, I could intellectually understand there were moments of humor, but now the whole book seems all the sadder, including much of the dark and absurd humor. Is it twenty years of experience? Or is it that the comedic techniques no longer seem fresh and surprising with twenty years more experience? I wonder, given my recent enthusiasm for Ferris's Then We Came to the End, if my reaction to that book would be similar twenty years from now. Hard to say. Whether one laughs or not, however, Heller's classic is still that, a book I treasure with fond memories and still love even in its darker aged luster.

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