Without realizing that Defective Yeti had declared this November to be National Novel Reading Month -- the novel in question being Catch 22 -- my book group also chose to sink its wine-stained teeth into Catch 22. I had read it before in high skool and I remembered three things:
1) Major Major Major Major!
2) War is crazy. In war there are no heroes, only people struggling to maintain their sanity; and if that, maybe, once in a while, coincides with Doing the Right Thing, then cool, but no one goes out of his way.
3) There are an awful lot of whores.
My memory proved accurate. It's not an easy read: the story loops back in on itself, tangential characters wander on and off screen, there are almost as many unnecessary adjectives as loose Italian women. In parts you really have to push yourself through but each time you're rewarded with a scene that's so good you wonder how anyone couldn't love this book.
And what struck me this time was how revolutionary this kind of myth-busting must have been when the book first came out. At this point, in a post-Vietnam world, we're accustomed to hearing that the people who fight for our freedom may have flaws, that not everyone who ventures out on a battlefield has pure and noble intentions. But this book is about World War II: The Good War, the one we're supposed be to be able to be proud of. These soldiers, described by Heller in all their specific grinning idiocy are members of our Greatest Generation. How did he get away with that? Even today it wouldn't be easy.
Despite its stylistic flaws, I think that courage is going to be my key takeaway from this reading. But um, I do wish there were one female character who wasn't an empty-headed, busty buffoon. On that note: in honor of whatshisname, another great white shark of mid-century American fiction who died this past weekend, Jezebel put together a roster of He-Man Woman Hating Club. Made me feel better about feeling alienated by so much "contemporary" lit. Read the comments too. They are pure and noble.
ETA: if this isn't enough bile for a Wednesday morning, here's some additional spewing, bubbling, volcanic hate for Maureen Dowd.
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