Happy birthday to Catch-22 author Joseph Heller, on what would have been his 89th. If you haven't read it (and you should), the novel follows Yossarian, a bombardier named stationed in Italy during World War II, who is as determined to escape the war alive as the military bureaucracy seems determined to kill him. Much of it reads like Abbott and Costello's "Who's on first?" with mortal consequences. Like this:
"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to."
There you go. As a comment on war's ability to bend reason and reality, Catch-22 has proved remarkably durable, spawing a line of absurdist horror stories. So, in honor of Heller's birdthday and the 51st anniversary of Catch-22's publication, here are five descendants of Heller's mad, mad, mad, mad masterpiece:
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Our top pick for the Best Books of May, Ben Fountain's debut novel is "The Catch-22 of the Iraq war." Karl Marlantes, author of Matterhorn and What It Is Like to Go to War, says so right on the jacket, and he would know. In his review, Amazon's Neal Thompson says Billy Lynn "manages a sly feat: giving us a maddening and believable cast of characters who make us feel what it must be like to go to war--and return."