Chapters Read: 24. Milo, 25. The Chaplain, 26. Aarfy, 27. Nurse Duckett, 28. Dobbs, 29. Peckem, 30. Dunbar, 31. Mrs. Daneeka, 32. Yo-Yo’s Roomies
Page reached:: 335 of 448 (74.78%).
Status Report: Sorry about the hiatus in status reports, folks. I spent much of last weekend reading Michael E. McCullough’s papers on gratitude in preparation for my Morning News essay on the subject. Then, the library informed me that my copy of Catch-22 was due, and I was unable to renew it because holds had been placed on all available copies. WTF LITERATI!!!!!¡!! When I initially checked the book out, there were no holds at all, so I can only assume that much of the Greater Seattle Area is frantically trying to jump into NaNoReMo 2007 at the last possible moment, a hypothesis corroborated by the fact that I had to visit five bookstores before I could rustle up a new copy. (“I know we had copy a few weeks ago,” the staff at the first four bookstores told me, “but now it looks like we are out …”)
The article about Catch-22 I linked to last week contained this passage:
The doubling of the digits [in the title of Catch-22 happens] to emphasize a major theme of the book: duplication and reduplication. When the book was first published, critics objected to its monotony and repetition. 'Heller's talent is impressive,' said Time magazine, 'but it is also undisciplined, sometimes luring him into bogs of boring repetition. Nearly every episode in Catch-22 is told and retold.'
Nice of Time to do my summary for me.
For this block of chapters the reader is like a paper boat caught in the eddies, looping around and around, hopefully gathering enough momentum to eventually escape and continue his journey. That’s an observation, not a complaint–though it’s probably best that I took a little break before tackling these hundred pages.
I do have a gripe, though. In my Layer Tennis commentary, I mentioned a concept called douche ecossaise. Literally the term means “alternating between very hot and very cold showers,” but it was later adopted by Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol to describe their macabre performances, which would switch back and forth between humor and horor and, in doing so, enhance the effect of each. was the reigning venue for all things macabre. The sudden shift between horror and humor–two opposing emotional “temperatures”–each heightening the effect of the other. Heller does this to good effect throughout the novel.
But in a few places he takes the joke a bit too far. In chapter 24, he has Milo bombing the American camp and getting off scot free; in chapter 31., he has Daneeka mistakenly reported as dead, and all the folks in the camp refusing to recognize that the doctor walking around in their midst is, in fact, still alive. The first scenario you can attribute to satire (after all, Milo is essentially a metaphor for capitalism, and a business conspiring with America’s enemies to make a buck isn’t exactly far-fetched), but the Doc. Daneeka bolding strides into the realm of farce. In doing so, it lessens the horror of subsequent events, rather than heightens them. Turn your story into a cartoon and no one is going to recoil in shock when characters are killed by falling anvils.
Criticizing a subplot of Catch-22 for being absurd is like complaining that trash compactor on the Death Star is scientifically implausible, I know. But a book as labyrinthine as Catch-22 needs some internal logic to keep things cohesive, and I thought these two vignettes violated what little the novel contains.
Favorite Passage:”What about my wife?” Colonel Scheisskopf demanded with disgruntled suspicion. “I’ll still be able to send for her, won’t I?”
“Your wife? Why in the world should you want to?”
“A husband and wife should be together.”
“That’s out of the question also.”
“But they said I could send for her!”
“They lied to you again.”
“They had no right to lie to me!’ Colonel Scheisskopf protested, his eyes wetting with indignation.
“Of course they had a right,” General Peckem snapped with cold and calculated severity, resolving right then and there to test the mettle of his new colonel under fire. “Don’t be such an ass, Scheisskopf. People have a right to do anything that’s not forbidden by law, and there’s no law against lying to you. Now, don’t ever waste my time with such sentimental platitudes again.”