So, I’ve managed to finish Catch-22, and I feel I understand now why it is so haphazard in the beginning. Throughout the whole book it gets progressively more coherent, and noticeably darker in tone, culminating in the details of the incident that breaks Yossarian’s nerve. This darkening of tone is quite awkward in places, as it can shift very quickly. One moment you may be laughing at something patently ridiculous, the next you’re thinking “Why am I laughing at this? What sort of horrible, twisted individual am I?” as the seriousness of the situation hits home.
Overall, though, it actually makes it interesting and satisfying, as there is a sense of the book mirroring Yossarian’s mind edging ever closer to the subject, then darting away (to a different time/place) because it’s not ready to deal with it. Once everything is out in the open, the final chapter has a calm and determined Yossarian who knows what he is going to do and is ready to take direct action to deal with his dilemma (to fly, or not to fly). It has a relaxing, encouraging feeling, despite the seriousness of the situation.
Another blogger, rainymondaymorning, makes similar remarks about Atonement in terms of it being annoying to start with, but better once you get into it. I commented there, and I reiterate here, that I dislike the idea of any form of entertainment that requires a substantial investment before it gets “good”. Yes, it’s very true to life – in the real world, a lot of the best things require a lot of work before you see any benefit from them. With most products/services, you don’t gain any income until you have completed the product/performed the service. For that reason, entertainment should be interesting fairly quickly. We’ve spent the day at work, we don’t want to have to work at our leisure activities*.
But having said all that, I can’t really fault Catch-22, nor any other book/movie/etc. that has a similarly high up-front cost. Not all books are purely for entertainment, and it’s the “literature” that advances the medium; testing new ideas, stretching boundaries, conveying humanity in all its complexities. We need the heavy stuff, just as much as we need the light stuff, because there’s far more to life than any one of us can ever experience in a whole lifetime.
I’d better point out, though – before anyone starts measuring me up for a tweed jacket and horn-rimmed spectacles – that when I get home after a long day and sit down to watch a DVD, it’s more likely to be something like How to Train Your Dragon than, say, Winter’s Bone.
* As a side note, I suspect this is part of the reason some people – myself included – struggle with exercise unless there is an externally-imposed motivation (like meeting other people at the gym).