Cover image for Tilting at mortality : narrative strategies in Joseph Heller's fiction
Tilting at mortality : narrative strategies in Joseph Heller's fiction
Craig, David M., 1948-
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Publication Information:
Detroit, Mich. : Wayne State University Press, [1997]

Physical Description:
330 pages ; 24 cm.
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PS3558.E476 Z6 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Unlike other studies of Joseph Heller, which focus on his two primary works, Catch-22 and Something Happened, this volume considers Heller's entire career and examines each of his novels on its own terms, including Heller's latest work, Closing Time. Tilting at Mortality pursues two complementary tracks: first, it explores the evolution of Heller's essential subject, human mortality; and second, it delineates his artistic development as a novelist. Mortality - in particular, the death of children or alternatively of wounded innocents - provides Heller with his core story. In Catch-22, Heller addresses this concern in the Snowden death scene, and with each subsequent novel he has revised and retold this story, always concluding with a wrenching death that occurs in the penultimate chapter. Each novel emerges as another gesture of comic defiance, each constituting a strident, insistent, angry, sometimes eloquent protest againt mortality.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Craig's may not be the first book-length study of Joseph Heller's fiction, but it is among the best. In many ways it goes beyond Robert Merrill's Joseph Heller (CH, Sep'87), Sanford Pinkser's Understanding Joseph Heller (CH, Feb'92), Judith Ruderman's Joseph Heller (1991), and David Seed's The Fiction of Joseph Heller (CH, Nov'89) in its scope and approach, and it is the only study to consider Heller's most recent novel, Closing Time. Separate chapters treat each of the six novels; an introductory chapter considers Heller's early short stories. Craig's approach is twofold: "examining mortality as themes and raison d'etre of Heller's fiction, and exploring his narrative strategies." The author (Clarkson Univ.) traces the development of Heller's work from early realist fiction to comic antirealism and concerns with Jewish identity, to self-conscious metafictions and ethical summation (Closing Time). He demonstrates that orality and a command of language are consistent concerns of author and protagonists as an assertion of mortality and vitality, silence becoming tantamount to extinction. Craig's study is comprehensive and original, and his access to private papers and unpublished fiction makes the book indispensable for any serious reader or scholar of contemporary American literature. D. W. Madden California State University, Sacramento