Catch-22: Chapters 19-21

Chapters Read: 19. Colonel Cathcart, 20. Corporal Whitcomb, 21. General Dreedle

Page reached:: 209 of 448 (46.65%).

Status Report: In my recent review of Primer, I wrote: “I’m a total sucker for movies that break open your head and punch you in the brain, so Primer was right up my alley. … It’s one of those films, like Memento and Mulholland Dr., that pretty much necessitates repeated viewing.” These movies have come to be known as “puzzle films,” because rather than simply handing the audience a linear narrative, the director instead distributes clues throughout the picture like a farmer throwing seeds into a field. It’s up to the viewer to find all the relevant information and piece it back together, to have any hope of understanding the plot.

Now, here’s a passage from General Dreedle:

Major _____ de Coverley was an ominous, incomprehensible presence who kept him constantly on edge and of whom even Colonel Korn tended to be wary. Everyone was afraid of him, and no one knew why. No one even knew Major _____ de Coverley's first name, because no one had ever had the temerity to ask him.

At long last we know what the underscores are about. And the reader is learning additional details about other previously underexplained events as well … so long as he’s alert enough to spot ‘em.

This aspect of Catch-22 really appeals to me. Though it’s unlikely that I’m going to immediately read the book a second and third time after completion, to see what I missed the first time through.

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8 comments.

  1. While reading last night, it suddenly occurred to me that this book may be less of a puzzle than a really long (albeit funny and sometimes compelling) shaggy dog story. The difference being that at the end of a puzzle, everything suddenly comes to a satisfying conclusion and all the pieces snap into place, whereas in a shaggy dog story the end is an unsatisfying cheap joke that leaves you empty, no matter how good a shaggy dog storyteller the author is.

    Any of you (like me) who HAVEN’T read to the end yet care to guess which it’ll be?

  2. I spent like 20 minutes trying to find that passage about Major ____ De Coverley’s name to add a link to the comments on his chapter, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what chapter it was in! I was wondering why you hadn’t noticed it yet…

  3. Having read the book several times over the course of my life, I chose not to follow along this time. However, I am greatly enjoying reading the comments and blogging with you. I won’t tell you whether it’s a shaggy dog story or a puzzle (or something in between . . . ), but I think the book takes a long time to get into. It’s rewarding. I think the second time I read it was on a road trip to Alaska. It’s the perfect travel book. I had a point to make, but alas, I can’t recall what it was now.

    Thanks for taking me along on the trip through the book anyhow.

  4. Is anyone else finding their humor being infected by the circular logic and non sequiturs used in the book? The witty remarks I make daily to friends and colleagues have started to sound like dialog from Catch-22.

  5. @Greg: No, you’re not the only one. Catch-22 is my favorite book, and ever since I first read it about 9 years ago my speech has taken on a note reminiscent of the novel. Of course, it’s not present as strongly now as it first was, but don’t be surprised if it sticks with you for a while :)

  6. Heller lays it on pretty thick with his nauseating descriptions of Colonel Cathcart, and I was just starting to think of skimming ahead when I got to the episode of the synchronizing of the watches. I haven’t laughed out loud that much from reading a book in a long time!

  7. Well, my first actual blog post on this project is at
    http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=30974747&blogID=329792363

    I’ll try to make them as regular as yours.

  8. Those movies piss me off, to the degree that I just have to walk away after fifteen minutes. But for some reason, I’m not affected the same way by literature in the same vein. I’m enjoying the book, but no — I’m more likely to go find Cliffs Notes or something than to read it again (at least anytime soon).

    Yeah, after I was all patting myself on the back about being ahead, I just now barely caught up with the last post.