Author: Joseph Heller
Publication Date: 1961
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 5/13/16
Summary: Satire at its finest. America soldiers attempt to navigate the paradoxical elements of their lives and assignments in Italy during WWII.
What I Thought: This is one of the few from Modern Library's list that I had read previously. I remembered not enjoying it much, so I've put it off, despite the fact that it falls very early in the rankings. I was very much hoping to enjoy it more this time around. I figured, too, it deserved a second chance. It's on the list for a reason, after all.
I'm glad I gave it another shot. While I still was not blown away in awe or inspired to read more of Heller's work, I had a much greater appreciation for the novel this time around. I think there are a few reasons for that.
First of all, I'm not sure exactly when I read it before, but I am at least five years older than I was the first time around. That gives me a much stronger grasp of sarcasm and its virtues. Don't get me wrong - I've been employing sarcasm personally for decades, but it can be much more difficult in literary form. I got it a lot better this time around. I understood what Heller was trying to express through the absurd circumstances and foolish dialogue.
Which leads me to the second factor. Heller's message resonated with me a lot more this time. In the last five plus years, I have learned a lot about the world and had some of the illusion of youth rubbed away. I understand the insanity of war better now. I understand why Heller wrote what he did. Sure, I have not experienced such things first hand, but I have learned and studied enough to get it - and enough to agree.
One thing I did find particularly interesting was Heller's treatment of women. As with many war novels, the cast of characters is predominately men. The few women who appear serve as sex symbols rather than interesting, intelligent people in their own right. The women in the book are over the top; their emotions determine their actions, which are often extreme and foolish. I'd like to think Heller's portrayal of the female gender is another aspect of his satiricism. To a point, I think it is. After all, the book culminates with a young woman being raped and murdered, despite her perceived innocence. Yet, Heller deals very little with any type of discrimination and so I fear the objectification of women simply serves as a representation of cultural perspective, rather than a statement on its erroneous nature. Needles to say, it really bothered me.
This is never going to be a favorite of mine, but at least I understand it better now. I enjoyed some sections a whole lot more than others, even laughing aloud at points. I'm glad to have read it again, but I cannot say a reread will be in my near future.
Will I Re-Read: Maybe
A Reduced Review: Coming back to this classic satire made a lot more sense and was more enjoyable now that I've gained some time and perspective.