clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

There's a Catch

How do you know the dog likes his new bed? He sits in it with his old bed firmly in his jaws.

He's moved on to the new but he hasn't left the best of the old parts behind. We should all edit like this.

Tonight, Joseph Heller and Catch 22. I would imagine there is a crowd of you who haven't read this one. It's wonderful in its absurdist dystopia of war.

The crux of the novel revolves around bomber pilots in WW II who want out. The mission requirement keeps climbing and their odds of survival keep falling. They've done their bit for king and country and want out.

A way out is insanity. Go crazy, go home. Easy enough. The title refers to a little logic issue. If you want out, you are sane and thus should fly more missions. It's a catch. In fact, it is catch #22.

If you want to fly more missions, you're crazy and should be sent home. However, there is a war on. You stand a very good chance of flying those missions and getting killed before the doctors decide you're crazy and send you home.

It's a great novel about living inside a system of the absurd.

Let's look at the opening lines. I love openings.

It was love at first sight.
The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.
Yossarian was being hospitalized with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn't become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them.

Lovely. Here we have the gist of the novel after these short words. We know the protagonist. We know things are off balance (in love with the chaplain). We know the institutional quandary we'll face throughout the novel. We really don't know we'll face it throughout the novel.Trust me: we will.

We don't know why Yossarian loves the chaplain. We don't know his role yet. We're not sure of our bearings. We feel some of the confusion of the characters in the novel.

Note that while we feel confusion, we're not wacked-out completely bonkers. We understand a chaplain and know a man - because men are referred to most often by their last names - is in love with him. We know liver and hospital and the conditions involving the two are clearly explained.

We're still out of our depth but we know where the side of the pool is clearly enough.

Things are rarely laid out in life like tax code. We don't have all the rules. With tax code, if we have the rules we have a chance to figure them out even if we don't yet know their meaning. In the novel, the characters live and thus do not have all the bearings or all the rules. They probably should not be able to figure things out because most of us never do in life itself.

Characters drift. We forget that when writing - at least I do. I sometimes forget my characters do not know as much as the author or the reader. It makes things better when we keep these points in mind and Heller does so throughout Catch 22.

Do NOT see the movie. It is perhaps one of the worst film adaptations ever attempted. I love Buck Henry; but, this one didn't go well.

Now, in the prior post I share an opening. I think it misses introducing the protagonist and setting our direction. Oh, we imply from the dead Alice that we're afoot to solve a crime. Maybe. Maybe not. Nevertheless, we're left knowing no living soul and I think that is weak.

Let's try this one as a revision:

Alice Hauberer sprawled amidst the sweetness of a white clover meadow ready for the prairie haying. The electric man stopped at her power pole to pull the juice for a chronic unpaid bill. He saw the house standing open and no one around. He called it in.
She was a good-looking thirty-seven years old and dead. No one was looking for her in the three weeks she lay in the field.
Alice ruined three marriages counting the Methodist minister's and planted larkspur in the motor-grader ditch to kill stray cattle. Some things were just not done in Paradise, Kansas.

I like this better but it is messy. There's work to do.

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