Catch-22 | Joseph Heller

The cover of Heller's Catch-22Have you ever watched M*A*S*H? If so, you owe a debt of gratitude to Joseph Heller. In Catch-22, Heller is the first person to bundle wit with horror, slapstick with satire, and set it in a war-camp.

Catch-22 is a sprawling novel with a large cast of characters—almost caricatures. My favourite was Milo Minderbinder. Starting as Mess Officer, he quickly used the airplanes at his company’s disposal to set up a trading syndicate. He grew his business (of which everyone had a share, of course) to service both the allies as well as the Germans! After all, Milo would say, isn’t the future of capitalism what we’re fighting for? The height of satire was reached when Milo bombed his own squadron when he was paid to do so by the Germans.

Another jab at military incompetence (of which there are many) is the case of Major Major Major Major. His father named him Major M. Major, with pride. Of course, with a name like that, it wasn’t long before a paperwork problem led to Major’s promotion!

Chaplain Tappman was another character who’s life was laced with irony. He was an Anabaptist minster (a pacifist) in the middle of a war. He’s befuddled when his superior officer asks him to pray for tighter bomb patterns. His only real desire was to return to his family.

I don’t know anyone aside from Kurt Vonnegut who puts such poignant observations in such a zany container. This is the sort of book that will cause you to laugh (literally) out loud, only to realize what you’re laughing about and wince.

—Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1955, 2011).

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