BOOKS: Blessed Is The Blasphemy Of Catch 22


“And don’t tell me God works in mysterious ways,” Yossarian continued, hurtling over her objections. “There’s nothing so mysterious about it. He’s not working at all. He’s playing or else He’s forgotten all about us. That’s the kind of God you people talk about—a country bumpkin, a Catch_22.jpgclumsy, bungling, brainless, conceited, uncouth hayseed. Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of creation? What in the world was running through that warped, evil, scatological mind of His when He robbed old people of the power to control their bowel movements? Why in the world did he ever create pain? … Oh, He was really being charitable to us when He gave us pain! [to warn us of danger] Why couldn’t He have used a doorbell instead to notify us, or one of His celestial choirs? Or a system of blue-and-red neon tubes right in the middle of each person’s forehead. Any jukebox manufacturer worth his salt could have done that. Why couldn’t He? … What a colossal, immortal blunderer! When you consider the opportunity and power He had to really do a job, and then look at the stupid, ugly little mess He made of it instead, His sheer incompetence is almost staggering. …” — JOSEPH HELLER, Catch 22

USA TODAY: A half a century ago, a Manhattan ad guy straight out of Mad Men wrote a novel whose title became an indispensable part of our lexicon. Former ad man Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was first published in 1961 and publishers are already marking the 50th anniversary. Out this week is One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller by Tracy Daugherty (St. Martin’s Press, $35), the first full biography of the writer. Due in stores later this month is Yossarian Slept Here (Simon & Schuster, $25), Erica Heller’s bittersweet memoir of her father. Released this spring: A 50th anniversary edition of Catch-22, with an introduction by Heller friend and fellow satirist Christopher Buckley (Simon & Schuster). Biographer Daugherty, who teaches at Oregon State University, calls Heller’s debut novel “the bible of American black humor.” The classic has sold more than 10 million copies since 1961. The novel, whose protagonist is named Capt. Yossarian (and played by Alan Arkin in the 1970 film), draws on Heller’s experiences as a World War II bombardier (he flew 60 missions). But it also captures the timeless frustration of dealing with insane bureaucracies. Heller created “a shorthand phrase that didn’t exist before,” Daugherty says, but one we all understand. “It’s like you can’t get a job unless you have a job.” Catch-22 also evokes a soldier’s eternal conundrum: He wants to live but must to risk death by fighting for a bigger cause. Heller’s book especially resonated during the Vietnam War. “Heller never bought into that macho ethic,” Daugherty says. “He was very cynical about reasons to go to war.” MORE


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