Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Catch-22 and Different Seasons

I finished Catch-22 this week (and today I went and picked up the sequel, Closing Time). It's a great, great book. The later chapters are poignant and funny (the thing with Doc Daneeka is probably the saddest), and the ending is great. I don't know if I would've been prepared for it in high school. Or rather, I don't know if I would have been unprepared. It is the kind of book that catches you with your pants down and knocks you on your butt.

It is an over-the-top satire of the vagaries of war (unfortunately, probably not very over-the-top) and the illogic of bureaucracy and war in general. It is also a really good example of how the language of the story can become the story on some level. It wouldn't have been nearly as forceful without stuff like this:

Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. "Is Orr crazy?"

"He sure is," Doc Daneeka said.

"Can you ground him?"

"I sure can but first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule."

"Then why doesn't he ask you to?"

"Because he's crazy," Doc Daneeka said. "He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to."

"That's all he has to do to be grounded?"

"That's all. Let him ask me."

"And then you can ground him?" Yossarian asked.

"No, then I can't ground him."

"You mean there's a catch?"

"Sure there is a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."

I would've gotten jokes like this, sure, but I don't think I would've groaned as much. The narrator of Catch-22 accepts all they see and say, something like Huck Finn. As I've said before, I wasn't good at standing outside the narrator's head. It's not that I had to be hit over the head with things, but I felt like I had to see things like the narrator did in order to understand the point of the story. This put me at a disadvantage with the unreliable narrators of modern fiction.

Anyhow, reread this if you haven't seen it for a while. It was great. I don't remember a single boring page. Sex, violence, language, and philosophy warnings.

I resumed my Stephen King program. I think I'm up to 1982 or so. I checked out Christine (which I think is about an evil car), and Different Seasons. Different Seasons is about as long as a paperback, and contains four short stories/novellas/novelettes/whatever. Three of them have been made into movies (and I'm not sure about the fourth). They all seem to have minor links between their characters.

The first one was "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption", which was the basis for The Shawshank Redemption (Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman took the main roles). It was a great story, just as touching as the movie. It surprised me how much of the language from the story had survived into the movie. Most of the important incidents made it too. Looking back at the movie, I see why they added and changed what they did: somebody had some real brainstorms for the movie. But there are no substantial differences in the feeling of the thing. Make haste to read the story and see the movie.

The second one was "Apt Pupil". Once, I read that good vs. evil is a hoary old conflict for a plot to do. Instead, you should do something closer to good vs. good; that is, oppose characters who want conflicting things for their own good reasons. There are a lot of reasons to do it: the characters will be more realistic, the conflict will be more meaningful, the story will be less predictable.

"Apt Pupil", on the other hand, is pure evil vs. pure evil. It's about a kid who becomes fascinated with the Holocaust and the concentration camps, then recognizes an old Nazi living in his town. Instead of turning the Nazi into the cops, the kid coerces the Nazi into telling him every gory detail. And that's just the beginning of the story. Everything spirals down from there. In a way, I couldn't wait for both of them to get their comeuppance. But it gets pretty horrible along the way.

It was made into a movie with Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro, but I don't think I really want to see it.

Next up in that one is "The Body", which got made into Stand By Me, a movie I might have seen snatches of, but now can't remember.

I also got The Old Man and the Sea. It was on the shelf near Joseph Heller's books. I don't think I have ever read a whole story by Hemingway, much less a novel, so this is another big classic for me.

So many classics, so little time.


Aestival_Ague said...

Oh, Closing Time is awful. Do not read it. I was severely disappointed.

Dan Lewis said...

It's still on the shelf... it's gotten bumped down the queue by the collected works of Charles Stross and sundry others.

I have noticed that writers can get in a bind when they deliver a masterstroke. The next thing is liable to be a comedown. Some people think it's been downhill for Stephen King since The Stand.

I have seen people beat it though. Radiohead comes to mind. They had to follow OK Computer somehow, so they reinvented themselves completely with Kid A and Amnesiac. Neil Gaiman also keeps hopping genres.