Imagine trying to explain an experience that never existed prior to your exposure to it. What words do you use to convey your testimony? What expression do you employ to connect with others?
Joseph Heller like J.D. Salinger use the novel to convey the unspoken. Heller juxtaposed humor and horror. Salinger gave language to a muted majority. Both authors deconstructed the novel in order to rebuild it on their terms, broken by "The War."
Catch -22 is a difficult reading experience. It is tedious. And relentlessly hysterical, saddled right next to the ever present pressure of putrid death.
Once you accept these opposites, and ride the rollercoaster of Catch, you get a medal. Heller's incredibly vocabulary and acrobatic prose bulk your literary guns. This burlesque a la brutal style allowed for an entire new midcentury modern novel to evolve. A new kind of novel, erudite and excruciating brought us Vonnegut, Pynchon, Gaddis and Styron.
Heller wasn't the first to combine humor and horror. I'm in the middle of Louis-Ferdinad Celine's Journey to the End of Night. I'm surprised Yossarian hasn't, yet, made a cameo appearance.
Heller tried to explain war. War. The War. Perhaps that is never truly possible. But a writer is only armed with language to convey their interpretation of an experience. The effects of war, the distrust of government and the rejection of the establishment in the decades that followed, all represent sensibilities of Heller's generation, expressed by a new form of novel and an excellent use of language.
Yes, Catch-22 is not light summer reading. It is an important literary labyrinthine mission, I recommend to make.
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