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Hitting You Over the Head with a Shoe

February 4, 2010

Catch-22

Catch-22
By Joseph Heller

During a debate in high school, I remember using the phrase “catch-22” to describe a problem with the other team’s case. It caught on quickly, and before we knew it, every other speaker in the round was talking exclusively about whether the case was a “catch-22.” I realize now that I had no idea what I was talking about, because I hadn’t read the book. But now that I have read it, I wonder if it actually mattered.

Nick and Rachel have been urging me to read this book for a long time now, and over exam week, I finally got around to it. (Although I was a little stunned at how long it was; for some reason, I thought it was around 230 pages. You can imagine my surprise when it weighed in at 560.) I have to say my initial impression up front: It was entertaining, but it didn’t change my life. In fact, I got a little tired of it.

Heller is funny. And he knows he’s funny because he’s dealing primarily in the medium of irony and paradox. A commanding grasp of irony is, naturally, what makes some authors funnier than others. Heller, however, seems to overuse his talent for contradiction. By the end of the novel, I didn’t know which way was up and which was down–but that, I suppose, is the way Heller would have wanted it.

READ IF: You need some lessons in paradox.

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