Catch-22: Chapters 5-8

Chapters Read: 5. Chief White Halfoat, 6. Hungry Joe, 7. McWatt, 8. Lieutenant Scheisskopf

Page reached:: 76 of 448 (16.96%).

Status Report: On the one hand, the “Who’s On First” routine is getting wearisome; on the other, the book is a pretty easy read (“because of” or “despite of” the schtick, I haven’t yet decided), so I’m not sure it matters. Still, I hope this doesn’t become one of those novels I find myself devouring at every available opportunity not because it is compulsively readable but simply because I want it to be over.

Now my biggest concern is the sheer number of people to which we have been introduced. Heller uses more characters than most authors use verbs, and this may prove to be a problem. I have the mental wherewithal to hold about four characters in my head during any given story, and then only if they are all suitably distinct–preferably one man, one woman, one child, and a pet of some sort, all with wildly divergent names. I’m the kind of guy who can lose track of the characters in My Dinner With Andre.

Worse, it’s never obvious, in Catch-22, which characters are “real” (i.e., essential to the alleged plot, which people swear is going to stroll onto the scene at some point) and which are just extended shaggy-dog jokes, never to be seen again. I’ll tell you this much: any character that doesn’t surface at least once every third chapter is going down my memory hole. Even as I typed the chapter titles above I was, like, “Chief White Who?”

Fun book, so far. That said, this dog-chasing-its-tail style of writing is certainly not for everyone. I’m at the point now where I can, with some confidence, make two predictions: after I finish reading Catch-22, I (1.) will have enjoyed it, and (2) will not begrudge anyone who hated it.

Favorite Passage:

Clevinger was one of those people with lots of intelligence and no brains, and everyone knew it except those who soon found it out. In short, he was a dope. He often looked to Yossarian like one of those people hanging around modern museums with both eyes together on one side of a face. It was an illusion, of course, generated by Clevinger's predilection for staring fixedly at one side of a question and never seeing the other side at all.

Words Looked Up:

  • Jocosely: Characterized by joking; humorous.
  • Avuncular: 1. Of or having to do with an uncle; regarded as characteristic of an uncle, especially in benevolence or tolerance.
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11 comments.

  1. “Fun book, so far. Still, this dog-chasing-its-tail style of writing is not for everyone, to be sure.”

    Ah yes. Beckett meets Hogan’s Heroes.

  2. "Alleged" plot?

    I’ve read it four times, will hopefully live long enough to read it at least four more times, and can say with confidence that it’s got a point… but a plot? Not as much, I think.

  3. To keep track of the extensive family trees and characters in Faulkner novels when I was devouring all those in college, I used to use an index card as a bookmark and jot down all the names, a few words about who each person was or why they were relevant, and which page they were introduced on in case I needed to go back to figure out who they were again later on. Worked pretty well. But I’ve read Catch-22 a few times already, and your theory that any character who doesn’t show up at least once every three chapters is forgettable is a sound one. Carry on, soldier! I’m enjoying your commentary!

  4. matt, at some point you will run across the word “infundibuliform” and I don’t know how familiar you are with geometry so maybe it’ll make sense to you but anyway, it’s “cone-shaped”. that word messed me up ten years ago and it’s all that comes to mind when someone mentions Heller’s thesaurousity.

  5. Meg’s comment about index cards reminds me of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” There is a character who was a former war correspondent who boiled the lives of everyone he ever met down to a couple of words and kept them in a library card catalog. No poin to this post – just felt like saying it. Good book though.

  6. If number of characters is a problem, by all means
    don’t pick War and Peace for next time.
    And if tail chasing is a problem don’t pick
    Tristram Shandy.

  7. Try reading Gravity’s Rainbow — fun book, but more characters than the bible (and a lot more begattin’)

  8. I believe you put the wrong tag on this post. You have “Neologisms” whereas the other Catch-22 posts are tagged “NaNoReMo 2007″.

  9. So I’m behind, but I’m reading!! I’m enjoying this book, if only because I have to actually “read” and can’t just speed read to find out what happens. On that same note, not much really happens, so I guess there’s nothing to “speed read.” Enjoying it though!!!

  10. I’m falling behind, but still committed. I agree 100% with everything you said. Could have been plucked from my brain, really. My second favorite passage, the first being the one you selected, was this:
    “Milo’s mustache was unfortunate because the separated halves never matched. They were like Milo’s disunited eyes, which never looked at the same thing at the same time. Milo could see more things than most people, but he could see none of them too distinctly.”
    Another goodie:
    “One evening he felt the need for a live model and directed his wife to march around the room.
    ‘Naked?’ she asked hopefully.”

    I refuse index cards. If the characters don’t stick it’s their own damn fault.

  11. My second son is named Milo, and it’s absolutely partly influenced by C22.

    That and Bloom County.