Two-word verdict: Endlessly frustrating.
I have been told Catch-22 is a modern classic, one that at least one friend has already told me he loved, but I can’t see the art. The humor is black–which isn’t usually a problem for me–but so bitter, and Heller seems to glory in writing the most contradictory characters I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. Complex characters are great, but these aren’t complex; they’re just lists of adjectives with a hearty helping of idiocy.
Outside of their chapters, the characters are generally indistinguishable, even after the adjectives Heller has so generously lavished on them. The non-linear nature of the story only adds to the confusion. In addition, the utter lack of admirable characters or even characteristics is quite depressing. This must have been to add humor, but I kept thinking of the Daffy Duck cartoons where he does nothing but frustrate an innocent through deliberate stupidity, or the Grover bits on Sesame Street where, in his willful ignorance, he succeeds in aggravating people almost to tears. Yes, Catch-22 is making me dredge up my half-remembered childhood television issues.
On the bright side, Snowden’s death, when it finally came, was very well-written and gave me a little insight into Yossarian at the last. Too, while I was irritated by the depression brought on by the never-ending stupidity and slavish bureaucracy, it was a little refreshing to read a World War II novel not populated by noble deeds and great men. The greatest generation can be bad for the ego…
I’ve finished a “work of literature,” and I don’t have to worry about it any more. Also, I now know precisely what catch-22 means: you can only understand Catch-22 if you read it, but you can only read Catch-22 if you don’t want to read it. Or something like that.