Explosive, subversive, wild and funny, 50 years on the novel's strength is undiminished. Reading Joseph Heller's classic satire is nothing less than a rite of passage. Set in the closing months of World War II, this is the story of a bombardier named Yossarian who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. His real problem is not the enemy - it is his own army which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. If Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions then he is caught in Catch-22: if he flies he is crazy, and doesn't have to; but if he doesn't want to he must be sane and has to. That's some catch...
There was a time when reading Joseph Heller's classic satire on the murderous insanity of war was nothing less than a rite of passage. Echoes of Yossarian, the wise-ass bombardier who was too smart to die but not smart enough to find a way out of his predicament, could be heard throughout the counterculture. As a result, it's impossible not to consider Catch-22
to be something of a period piece. But 40 years on, the novel's undiminished strength is its looking-glass logic. Again and again, Heller's characters demonstrate that what is commonly held to be good, is bad; what is sensible, is nonsense.
Yossarian says, "You're talking about winning the war, and I am talking about winning the war and keeping alive."
"Exactly," Clevinger snapped smugly. "And which do you think is more important?"
"To whom?" Yossarian shot back. "It doesn't make a damn bit of difference who wins the war to someone who's dead."
"I can't think of another attitude that could be depended upon to give greater comfort to the enemy."
"The enemy," retorted Yossarian with weighted precision, "is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on."
Mirabile dictu, the book holds up post-Reagan, post-Gulf War. It's a good thing, too. As long as there's a military, that engine of lethal authority, Catch-22 will shine as a handbook for smart-alecky pacifists. It's an utterly serious and sad, but damn funny book.