“The novel, you know”


Aeropainting, Giovanni Korompay, 1935

From Vanity Fair:

Almost. Almost. There. He squeezed the toggle switch that released the bombs. Immediately, his pilot, Lieutenant John B. Rome, banked up, away from the target. Rome, about 20, was one of the youngest pilots in the squadron, with little combat experience. The co-pilot, fearing this green kid was about to stall the engines, seized the controls, and the plane went into a sudden steep dive, back to an altitude where it could be holed by curtains of flak. In the nose cone, Heller slammed into the ceiling of his compartment. His headset cord pulled loose from its jack and began whipping about his head. He heard nothing. He couldn’t move.

Just as quickly as it had begun its descent, the plane shot upward, away from the flak, one moment yo-yoing into the next. Now Heller was pinned to the floor, looking for a handhold, anything to grasp. The silence was horrifying. Was he the only crewman left alive? He noticed the cord to his headset lying free near his chair. He plugged himself back in and a roar of voices pierced his ears. “The bombardier doesn’t answer,” he heard someone shout. “Help him, help the bombardier.” “I’m the bombardier,” he said, “and I’m all right.” But the very act of asserting what should have been obvious made him wonder if it was true.

‘The novel, you know,” people whispered whenever Joseph Heller and his wife, Shirley, left a party early. From the first, Joe had made no secret of his ambitions beyond the world of advertising. In later years, he floated various stories about the origins of his first novel. “There was a terrible sameness about books being published and I almost stopped reading as well as writing,” he said on one occasion. But then something happened. He told one British journalist that “conversations with two friends … influenced me. Each of them had been wounded in the war, one of them very seriously The first one told some very funny stories about his war experiences, but the second one was unable to understand how any humour could be associated with the horror of war. They didn’t know each other and I tried to explain the first one’s point of view to the second. He recognized that traditionally there had been lots of graveyard humour, but he could not reconcile it with what he had seen of war. It was after that discussion that the opening of Catch-22 and many incidents in it came to me.”

“The War for Catch-22″, Tracy Daugherty, Vanity Fair