Tag Archives: Catch 22

Yossarian slept here: when your father betrays you

Catch-22, original book cover, from Wikimedia
Catch-22, original book cover, from Wikimedia

Would you feel betrayed by this? Imagine that your father, a famous author, wrote a novel that was clearly based directly on your own family, that it was negative in tone, that it described all his dissatisfaction with his wife, and that he included slabs of conversation that you (the daughter) actually had with your father.

That’s what Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, did in his novel Something Happened. Heller worked on the novel for 13 years. When his daughter read the proof, she was shocked.  In the book, the writer talks about his unnamed family members, recounting their faults, and how unhappy he was with them all. He talks about his efforts to intellectually out-fox his daughter. One chapter was entitled, ‘My Daughter is Unhappy’. His daughter, Erica asks, “was this a statement or a goal?”  When she asks him why he’s done this, he replies, “What makes you think you’re interesting enough to write about?” What more devastating retort could a father make to his daughter?

In addition, Heller had an affair, which involved flying his lover in the same plane as he and his wife when they went to speaking engagements, and booking the lover into the same hotels. Yes, that’s right- he was carrying on with the lover under the same roof as his wife. When his wife Shirley employed a private detective agency and confronted him with documentary evidence such as credit card bills and photographs, he denied it, and told the rest of his family that Shirley was going crazy and needed a psychiatrist. When Heller was in hospital, Erica walked in on the lover at her father’s bed. Heller calmly introduced them. (The daughter by this time already knew the lover’s name and what she looked like.) After that, Heller reverted to denying the person ever existed. This is strange behavior indeed.

The book gives an insight into what Heller was like as a person, and the answer is, ‘not very  nice, really.’ Still, the book is an insight into one of the twentieth century’s best-known writers. It’s well worth reading. Just be prepared to have some illusions shattered. Geniuses can be petulant, vicious and vindictive in their family affairs.

On another note , my novel, Fire Damage, a terrorism thriller, is now available as a paperback, here. It’s also available as a Kindle on Amazon US and UK. It’s based on the real-life Japanese religious cult, Aum Shinrikyo, which released sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system. 

How many characters spoil the plot?

Last night I saw Prometheus, the supposed prequel to 1973 film Alien, with Sigourney Weaver. Frankly, the plot didn’t impress me, and the film suffered from what I suspect is a common fault in films and books: too many “main” characters. It becomes difficult to emotionally identify with any one character. I felt no real identification with any of the on-screen characters in Prometheus. When I think back over some of the best films, there are usually one or two, maybe three main characters, but that’s the limit. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoohas Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist.

Poster for 1984, from Wikipedia

Catch 22 has Captain Yossarian. We see the other characters, but none of them gets even remotely equal time with Yossarian.  George Orwell’s 1984 has Winston Smith. As best I recall we never see his lover, Julia, nor his torturer, O’Brien, without him. As a result, we are totally invested in Winston. Even though Harry Potter has Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, and Snape, we know who the main character is. (And Rowling had the advantage of seven books over which to tell her story.) Steel Magnolias had half a dozen, but we are mostly invested in Julia Roberts, as Shelby, who is diabetic, not expected to be able to carry a child, and becomes pregnant anyway. She needs a kidney transplant, gets it, it fails, and finally she has to be disconnected from life support.

In order for me to be invested in the fate of a character, they need to be centre-front. They need to have a problem I can identify with.

So what about you? Do too many characters make it hard for you to get invested in a film or book? What’s your limit? what do you prefer? when you think about the films you thought were “best” films, how many lead characters did they have?

(On an unrelated topic, Piper Bayard and Holmes have an interesting article on spy ships between WWI and WWII. at Piperbayard.wordpress.com)

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My novel ‘Fire Damage,’ an action thriller, is available on Amazon Kindle, at:
The novel is based on the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, which released Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system in the 1990s. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app to read it on your computer or phone from here: