Rereading Catch-22

By Jennifer EganDecember 24, 2011

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

FOR MANY YEARS, I BELIEVED that my favorite novel was Catch-22. I remembered reading it as a teenager and being transported by the interweaving narratives and impressionistic style. It seemed a perfect amalgam of radical originality and great human storytelling, and occupied the supreme position in my mental pantheon. Then, in my late twenties, I sat down and re-read the novel, and the magic was gone. 

Though I was disillusioned with Joseph Heller to the point of anger, it clearly wasn't his fault; one thing that had driven me back to Catch-22 was my discovery and admiration for a later novel of his, Something Happened. Heller was an excellent writer, no question. But I never lost myself in Catch-22 that second time, and — most bizarrely — my favorite narrative strand, a shivery account of a character recovering from a lung illness, was not in the novel at all. Somehow I'd conflated Catch-22 with another book, not to mention injected it with a whopping dose of teenage emotional paroxysm and revelatory self discovery. What novel could live up to all that?


LARB Contributor

Jennifer Egan is the author of A Visit from the Goon Squad.


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