I’m reading Joseph Heller’s Good as Gold at the moment. It’s about 30 years old, about a Jewish professor of English Lit who’s kinda tangentially involved in the White House. It’s thematically and structurally very similar to Catch-22. It uses the same kind of situational absurdity, but has less breaks for exposition and more direct character action to explore the underlying ideas.
The underlying idea of Catch-22 is that you can only do something if you don’t want to do it, and vice-versa. Good as Gold is not so easily summarized.
It is almost too obvious to say that some of the things which are skewered in the book are frighteningly close pre-echoes of the news these days. I suppose this is because of the fundamental idiocy of institutionalized learning and bureaucracy. I think the most accurately portrayed foible is the inability to distinctly say anything, in case you must take responsibility for not only having said it, but the idea or action represented by your speech.
But I think that the great strength and interest in this book, unlike Catch-22, is in between the satirical swipes. There is a deep vein of real interest in the details of human life, occasionally derailed by those swipes. At times it almost feels like I am reading two distinctly different books: one an obvious satire in two phases, and one a deeply humorous and sensitive exploration of one family’s little struggles.
This deeper vein has the feel of familiarity to it. I can identify with the little personal struggles, and the mixed emotions generated by friends and family. It captures well the ambiguity of life. My summary of the novel is that it’s about recognizing that your experiences are unique, and so in an absolute sense, you can never identify perfectly with anyone else, but that we struggle to define ourselves in the context of a group whose collective identity is apparent on the surface. We try to fit in, but the society into which we want to slot is a mirage.
Anyway: don’t spoil the ending for me. I just needed a moment to process what I’d read so far.