First, an important lesson:
If you're on a Windows computer, hold down the alt key, then press 0-2-3-2. If you're feeling shouty, hold alt and then type 0-2-0-0 instead.
If you're on a Macintosh computer, hold the option key and then hit the grave accent/tilde key. Then either press E or Shift-E depending on your level of shoutiness.
...Or, you know, copy and paste. Or just keep writing it as Frere. Whatever floats your boat.
***THIS HAS BEEN A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT BY THE È-FILES. THE È-FILES: INVESTIGATING SEMI-PARANORMAL ACTIVITY AND SPREADING AWARENESS OF GRAVELY-ACCENTED VOWELS SINCE 2015.***
Anywho, on to your actual question.
I find that I have to keep making new qualifiers when I talk about books. For the longest time, All the King's Men was my favorite book, and I left it at that. Then, last summer, All the Pretty Horses came along and I was just astounded by its quality. It felt perfect. At the same time, though, I felt more of an emotional connection to Jack Burden and the events of ATKM, so I wasn't ready to displace it as my favorite quite yet. So, I just made a new category: while ATKM remained my favorite book, ATPH gained the distinction of being the most perfectly crafted book I've read.
Then along came Catch-22, and suddenly I'm back to coming up with more qualifiers. Did it become my favorite? No; it's going to take something mighty strong to knock ATKM off of it's pedestal. Is it more perfectly crafted than ATPH? Not necessarily. That's not to say that Catch-22 is shoddily written or put together badly; quite the opposite. It's just that ATPH had this deep sense of harmony and balance, every scene and description working together and making things feel wonderfully united by the end. Catch-22 is carefully constructed as well, but it's done so in a way that seems to upend traditional senses of harmony and aesthetic, so Catch-22 doesn't take ATPH's qualifier, either. It's something unique, and it seemed to deserve a title all of its own.
As an honorable mention of sorts, Catch-22 makes a strong case for the most hilarious book I've ever read. I stand by my new British friend Nick when he said that it was "laugh out loud hilarious." That's not what I'm going to focus on in the end, though; I've decided that, of all the books I've read, Catch-22 has the absolute best ending.
Does that seem like a small thing? I don't mean it to be. The thing is, after how diverse and varied the entire book is, I think it's absolutely incredible how the final pages manage to resolve the lingering conflicts in a satisfying way, both in terms of the story and in terms of the emotional feel of the book. Simply put, Catch-22 takes you through the ringer of emotions. It starts off hilarious. In between laughs, you catch small glimpses of intense fear or terror or melancholy. Things almost seem to take on a sense of normalcy, and for a second you start to get snatches of peace, tranquility, and beauty. Then, completely out of nowhere, it sucker-punches you in the gut with tragedy, then does so again and again. You'd think that after one sucker-punch the rest wouldn't come as a surprise, but you'd be wrong; each punch sends you reeling into a different emotion and before you can get your bearings you're being punched again. The hilarity comes back, but it feels different this time. You perhaps didn't notice before, but now the laughter seems to be defensive, covering up immense pain. Eventually, the laughter stops, as does the emotional sucker-punching, and you're left to ruminate on your wounds. You feel sick, and for a moment things go very, very dark. The darkness dissipates after a bit, but you feel broken. While things aren't getting worse, they're not exactly getting better. You consign yourself to this emotional limbo as the book enters its final pages.
Then, hope comes bursting in without wondering. You can't believe it at first, but it's there, and as you reflect you see that it's been there all along, but you hadn't noticed because of all the other emotional warfare taking place. Hope fills you and gets you excited again. Finally, brimming with hope, you hit the very last line, which sends you on your way with one last big laugh towards a brighter tomorrow.
That was all rather poetic and, admittedly, pretty corny of me to say. But really, so much of what makes this book amazing is how deftly Joseph Heller evokes emotions within you, the reader. So maybe what I'm wanting to say is that Catch-22 has the best ending, especially given the emotional journey beforehand.
To keep it short, I think I'll just say it's got the best ending (but it won't make sense unless you've read it all).
And that, I think, just about sums up all of my thoughts on Catch-22.
That sucker-punching, though; it's brutal. I don't think I've taken an emotional hit from a book that hard since I first read Tortilla Flat.
Also part of me wants to see if there's some ridiculous edit where they rearrange everything so that it's in chronological order. It probably wouldn't be as fun, though. Maybe I'll just have to re-read it some time now that I know what's going on.
-Washington Irving (Frère Rubik)