Cover image for Catch as catch can : the collected stories and other writings
Catch as catch can : the collected stories and other writings
Heller, Joseph.
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Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2003]

Physical Description:
xviii, 333 pages ; 23 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Library

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Long before there was a Catch-22, before there was even a Catch-18 (the novel's original title), Joseph Heller had begun sharpening his skills as a writer, searching for the voice that would best express the peculiarly wry view that he held of the world. Starting in 1945, with the publication in Story magazine of the short story "I Don't Love You Anymore," Heller began to reach out to an audience of readers damaged and disillusioned by their experiences during World War II. That story dealt with the return home of an American soldier who was having more than a little trouble adjusting. The stories published following this debut continued to reflect people at odds with the world around them, usually featuring the "little guy," the "underdog," the "average Joe" who beats the odds by surviving in a generally hostile and unwelcoming world. Written in what is termed the "New York Style," his were stories of urban naturalism, realistic and straightforward, emulating the work of such writers as Irwin Shaw, William Saroyan, John O'Hara, and -- perhaps most especially -- Nelson Algren. For Heller, writing these stories was a part of the learning process, his education on how to get across his own point of view, leading up to the publication of his masterpiece, Catch-22. Of the stories in this collection, thirteen were written before 1961, when Catch-22 was published; of those, five have never before been published. After Catch-22, Heller forsook the short story form. Though five stories were published after 1961, one -- "World Full of Great Cities" -- was actually written in 1949, three of the other four are spin-offs of Catch-22, and one is a preview of Closing Time. Rounding out this collection of the complete published short writings of Joseph Heller are a short play and several nonfiction pieces, mostly related to Catch-22.

Author Notes

American novelist and dramatist Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on May 1, 1923. Heller started off his writing career by publishing a series of short stories, but he is most famous for his satirical novel Catch-22. Set in the closing months of World War II, Catch-22 tells the story of a bombardier named Yossarian who discovers the horrors of war and its aftereffects. This novel brought the phrase "catch-22," defined in Webster's Dictionary as "a situation presenting two equally undesirable alternatives," into everyday use. Heller wrote Closing Time, the sequel to Catch-22, in 1994. Other novels include As Good As Gold and God Knows. He also wrote No Laughing Matter, an account of his struggles with Guillain-Barr Syndrome, a neurological disorder, in 1986.

Thirty-five years after writing his first book, Heller wrote his autobiography, entitled Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here. In his memoirs, Heller reminisces about what it was like growing up in Coney Island in the 1930s and 1940s. On December 13, 1999, Heller died of a heart attack in his home on Long Island. His last novel, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man, was published shortly after his death.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Heller's indelible 1961 antiwar novel, Catch-22, became a keystone work in American literature, added a new term to the dictionary, and transformed the author into a cultural icon. Heller's resounding success seemed sudden, but he had been hard at work on his fiction long before his first novel galvanized the nation, as evident in the 18 short stories showcased in this vibrant posthumous gathering of long scattered and, in some cases, never-before-published works. Edited by literary scholar extraordinaire Bruccoli and coeditor Bucker, the collection begins with resonant tales from the late 1940s and 1950s, in which Heller tackles such tricky subjects as a soldier's uneasy return from war, the emotional toll of the Depression, and, in the noirish "World Full of Great Cities," acute sexual tension. Heller's mordant wit, piercing psychological insight, and keen geopolitical awareness are on glinting display in his later stories, several of which pick up the life thread of Yossarian, the bombardier from Catch-22, anticipating the 1994 sequel, Closing Time. In the volume's frank, self-mocking, and deadpan essays, Heller revisits the genesis and reception of Catch-22 and recounts the making of the film version. Also included is Heller's caustically farcical one-act play based on an episode from Catch-22, as well as a reflective reminiscence of his Coney Island boyhood. All told, this is a welcome and illuminating addition to the oeuvre of a great American writer. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

This posthumous collection of Heller's writings combines his published stories with five previously unpublished ones, along with several essays about the writing of-and fallout from-Catch-22 and a play based on that novel. The collection, which covers 50 years of Heller's work, is striking for its range of tone. Readers familiar only with the acid humor of Catch-22 will be surprised by the melancholy of his early naturalistic stories about poverty, forgotten war heroes and recovering drug addicts. WWII vet Nathan Scholl returns from a heroin treatment program in Kentucky to his native Washington, D.C., where he drifts through his old haunts dejected and uncured, in "To Laugh in the Morning." In "Lot's Wife," Sydney Cooper watches as his wife, Louise, nonchalantly smokes a cigarette in the car, unaffected by the presence, outside the vehicle, of the injured man she's just run down. The couple reappear in "The Death of the Dying Swan," she as a party hostess with a plastic smile, he as the dutiful but resentful husband who escapes the party by volunteering to buy a jar of mustard. The collection shows the gradual evolution of an author who began his career writing polished but predictable stories and ended up inventing a voice and idiom that came to define the postwar era. The volume will be much appreciated by Heller's fans and students. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Heller's formidable literary reputation is based almost entirely on one book, Catch-22. He can't escape its shadow, even posthumously. At least half of this new collection consists of material directly related to that iconic novel: "lost" episodes, dramatizations, and reminiscences. The best of the lot is a short essay on the Mike Nichols film adaptation, first published in Audience magazine in 1972. The rest of the book is devoted to short fiction from the late 1940s. Surprisingly, these are not early attempts at the black comedy that became Heller's trademark but rather lurid pulp tales featuring prostitutes, potheads, and heroin addicts. Two previously unpublished stories, strikingly similar in tone to Nelson Algren's 1949 novel The Man with the Golden Arm, follow a young addict named Carl, who returns to his Brooklyn neighborhood after a failed attempt at rehab. Who would have guessed that Heller was a pioneer in the burgeoning genre of drug fiction? Recommended for most collections of postwar fiction. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/02.]-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One: I DON'T LOVE YOU ANY MORE Joseph Heller is twenty-two years old, born and educated in Brooklyn, New York, and, after three years of service in the Air Corps, is planning to enter the University of Southern California. He says, "I was stationed on the Island of Corsica with a B-25 squadron of the Twelfth Air Force and flew sixty combat missions as a bombardier, earning the Air Medal with seven oak-leaf clusters and a Presidential Unit Citation. I was discharged from the Army in June under the point system and have been comfortably rehabilitating myself ever since. At present, I am busy trying to get a play produced." She stood in the center of the room, her arms folded across her ample bosom and he could almost see the fires of anger flickering within her. She was doing her best to control them. "You aren't being very considerate, you know," she said quietly. "I know," he replied, "I'm sorry." "I don't believe you are sorry," she said. She waited for him to answer but he remained silent. "Are you?" "No," he said. "I'm not." She didn't answer him immediately; she didn't know what to say. It wasn't working out right. He had been home three days now and it was getting worse. The first day they had been uncomfortable, very cautious and considerate, feeling each other out as prize fighters do, not being themselves at all, and hoping to pick up the thread of happiness from where it had been dropped almost a year ago when he left. The second day should have been better, but it hadn't been. She was still considerate, too much so, and he found that something in the routine was getting on his nerves and making him bitter. And now they were quarreling; not yet, but he could see it coming because he was deliberately bringing it on. He was being cruel purposely, not really wanting to be, but nevertheless deriving some perverse pleasure in seeing her unhappy. He had been thinking about her for ten months, thinking about how nice it was going to be when he got back to her, and now he was back and it wasn't nice at all. He fingered the Chinese puzzle in his hands unconsciously, two metal rings, and without being aware of it, he deliberately thwarted himself each time from separating them. He caressed them with his hands, enjoying their cold firmness as he waited for her to speak. "Harry and Edith are coming over," she said finally. "That's nice." "Will you put some clothes on?" "No." "Why won't you?" "I don't want to." "What do you want?" she implored. He looked up at her while he thought it over. He was lying on the davenport completely naked except for a pair of shorts he was wearing, his thick, close-cropped hair uncombed and wisps of it standing out in all directions. He drank in the sight of her as she stood with her arms folded and he wondered why he had ever married her. It was her build, he decided. She was tall, taller than average, and everything about her was big, but she was put together in excellent proportion and was well rounded so that she possessed a strong physical attraction. "I don't want to meet anybody," he said. He hadn't left the apartment since he had arrived. "I don't want to meet my family or your family, or any friends. I don't want to sit in a room filled with people who are all beaming at me as if I were some marvelous mechanical toy, and play the modest hero. I don't want to tell anybody what it was like and smile shyly as they tell me how wonderful I am." She unfolded her arms and let them fall to her sides. She moved a few steps toward him. "What do you want to do?" she asked. "Just what I am doing now," he said. "I want to lie here relaxed and comfortable and drink beer. Will you go downstairs and get me a pitcher of beer?" "I will not," she said indignantly. "I'm your wife, not a servant. What did you marry me for? It would have been cheaper to hire a maid." "I know," he said. "I married you because it was part of the dream." "It hasn't been easy for me," she said, and asked, "What dream?" "The sugar and tinsel dream of life," he said smirking. He didn't want to smirk but he left the expression unchanged. "The Reader's Digest beautiful panorama of a beautiful life. You were a pretty girl, I was a good-looking boy; we are both just a trifle oversexed, so we got married. It was the thing to do, wasn't it?" "I'm doing my best," she said plaintively. "If you would only tell me what you do want, perhaps I could be more of a help. I know that you are disappointed but I don't know why. What did you expect to find?" "I want to do what I want to do," he said. She refolded her arms. "That makes sense," she said bitterly. "That makes a lot of sense." "You don't understand," he said in a patronizing voice, still fumbling with the puzzle. "I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it. Is that better?" "No," she said. "I'll try to break it down for you. If you miss some part of it let me know and I'll repeat it. Right now I want to lie here exactly as I am doing. Two hours from now I may want to go to the Stork Club. I don't know. While I am there I may want to sing aloud at the top of my voice, but right now I want to lie here without any clothes on and drink beer." "You know it hasn't been easy for me." "I know it hasn't. I'm sorry." She walked to the side of the room and sat down in an armchair, once again not knowing what to say next. She didn't want to surrender to the anger that she was trying to repress, but she could feel it swelling within her as if it were something having physical dimensions. "You've changed," she said softly. "I know," he said. "You've said that several times before, but it's the truth." He waited for her to reply but she made no motion to speak. "I don't like George Gershwin any more," he said, "so don't feel too badly about it." Now he was becoming brutal, and he could feel himself filling with self-contempt for it. He knew what she would say next and he felt a glow of pride as she obliged him. "What does George Gershwin have to do with it?" she asked. "I used to think about his music all the time. How much I missed it and how when I got home, I would sit down and listen to him for hours. Well, I got home finally, and I listened to his music and I found that I didn't like it." "I don't see it," she said. He turned on his side so that he could look her fully in the face. "It's the same way with you, Anne," he said slowly. "I don't love you any more." She sat up quickly as if the words had slapped her across the face. "That's not true," she said. "No, it isn't," he said. "But I don't. That's the way it is and as long as it is that way, we might as well face it now. There isn't any point in dragging out something that is unpleasant. The kindest use a knife because the dead soon grow cold." He studied her features to see if she was going to cry and he saw that she wasn't. He noticed it with disappointment. He became conscious of the rings in his hands and he grated one against the other mechanically as he waited for her to speak. "That's nice," she said. "That's very nice." "That's the way it is." "Do you want a divorce?" she asked. "No," he said, "I don't want a divorce. I have been leaning upon you for support too long a time. Psychologically, I am dependent upon you." "Good God!" she exclaimed in desperation. "Then what do you want?" A mischievous smile played with his mouth. "A pitcher of beer," he said. She rose to her feet and walked from the room. He turned over on his back and stared at the ceiling, feeling unhappy, wanting something and not knowing just what it was. He heard her come back into the room, but he continued to lie there without moving. "Will you please get dressed?" she said. "We'll talk about it some other time." "No," he said. "Harry and Edith will be here soon. I can't very well entertain them in the hallway." "Send them in." He turned to his side and looked at her. "I'll see them." "Put some clothes on, then. You're naked." "Harry and Edith have been married for five years. If she isn't familiar with the anatomy of the male by this time, then she has been missing a hell of a lot and it is my duty as a friend to enlighten her." "Will you at least put a robe on?" she asked. Her voice was low and her words were carefully pronounced, and he could tell that the break was soon coming. "No," he said. He turned over on his back again and looked down at the puzzle in his hands, watching her carefully through the corner of his eye. She stood motionless for a few seconds, looking at him. Then she let a long, loud breath escape her and her mouth formed a resolute line. She turned and walked to the clothes closet. "Where are you going?" he asked. His tone wasn't smug any more. It quivered with alarm. She didn't answer. She removed her coat from the closet and put it on. She opened her purse, fumbled inside it, and withdrew a bankbook. "Here is your money," she said. "Where are you going?" She set the bankbook down on a table and left the apartment. "Damn!" he said explosively. He heard a slight click and he looked down at his hands. The rings of the puzzle had come apart. He sat up. "Oh, hell, what's the matter with me!" He rose from the davenport and walked into the bedroom quickly. He sat on the edge of the bed and put his socks and shoes on. He went into the bathroom and washed his face and combed his hair. He didn't need a shave. He returned to the bedroom and finished dressing, fastening the buckle on his blouse with a strong tug. Then he went to the phone and called her mother. "I think Anne is on her way over," he said. "Will you tell her to call me as soon as she arrives?" "Is anything the matter?" "No, nothing is the matter. I have to speak to her. Tell her to call me as soon as she gets there." "What's wrong?" "Nothing is wrong. I just want to talk to her as soon as she gets there. Before she does anything else. Will you tell her? It's very important." "All right." "You won't forget, now. As soon as she gets there." "All right, I'll tell her." "Thank you." The doorbell rang a moment after he hung up. It was Harry and Edith and they flurried about him as soon as he opened the door, Harry shaking his hand and pounding his back, and Edith coming to his arms and kissing him, both of them gushing with questions which they gave him no time to answer, and he knew that he was glad to see them. They moved into the living room and even before they were seated they were asking the questions he knew they would ask and he found a joy in answering them. It was many minutes before either of them noticed Anne wasn't there. "Where's Anne?" Edith asked. He hesitated an instant. "She's over at her mother's." "Listen," Harry said, "we canceled our bridge appointment as soon as Anne phoned us. We're going on a party and you're coming with us." "Me?" he asked stupidly. They looked at him strangely. "You and Anne." He rose to his feet. "Anne isn't here," he said. "We had an argument and she left." They started to speak and he cut them off. "I don't think she'll be back." They were silent for a few moments as the surprise seeped in. "It isn't anything you can't patch up, is it?" Harry asked. He noticed that Edith was looking at him queerly. "I don't know," he said. "I don't think so. I hope not. You two go out on your appointment. I'll try to straighten it out. I'll call you tomorrow, Harry." "All right," Harry said, his exuberance gone. "Look, don't be foolish. It isn't any of my business, but use your head whatever you decide to do." "I will, Harry," he said. "Thanks. I'm sorry I had to spoil it. I never was much as a host." "That's okay. I wish you would patch it up. I'm rather fond of both of you." "I'll try," he said, and they rose to leave. They walked slowly to the door. Before they could reach it, the latch clicked and the door opened. Anne came in, backing into the room at first so that she did not see them immediately. When she turned, they saw that she wore an angry, inflammable look. For a moment she stared at Harry and Edith in surprise and then her face softened as she noticed them looking at her, and saw him standing there beside them, looking smart in his finely cut uniform with his hair combed and his face shining and wearing a sad apologetic smile. She saw him grin like an erring schoolboy when he noticed the pitcher of beer in her hands, and she smiled sheepishly. Copyright © 2003 by Erica Heller and Theodore M. Heller Excerpted from Catch As Catch Can: The Collected Stories and Other Writings by Joseph Heller All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.