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Catch-22

- Joseph Keller


Absurdist fiction/Satire



About the book:

Catch-22 is a hilarious, tragic novel in which an American air force base on a small island off Italy becomes a microcosm of the modern world as it might look to someone dangerously ...(more)



Excerpt 3:    (Excerpt 1)  (Excerpt 2)


General Dreedle's nurse always followed General Dreedle everywhere he went, even into the briefing room just before the mission to Avignon, where she stood with her asinine smile at the side of the platform and bloomed like a fertile oasis at General Dreedle's shoulder in her pink-and-green uniform. Yossarian looked at her and fell in love, desperately. His spirits sank, leaving him empty inside and numb. He sat gazing in clammy want at her full red lips and dimpled cheeks as he listened to Major Danby describe in a monotonous, didactic male drone the heavy concentrations of flak awaiting them at Avignon, and he moaned in deep despair suddenly at the thought that he might never see again this lovely woman to whom he had never spoken a word and whom he now loved so pathetically. He throbbed and ached with sorrow, fear and desire as he stared at her; she was so beautiful. He worshiped the ground she stood on. He licked his parched, thirsting lips with a sticky tongue and moaned in misery again, loudly enough this time to attract the startled, searching glances of the men sitting around him on the rows of crude wooden benches in their chocolate-colored coveralls and stitched white parachute harnesses. Nately turned to him quickly with alarm.

'What is it?' he whispered. 'What's the matter?'

Yossarian did not hear him. He was sick with lust and mesmerized with regret. General Dreedle's nurse was only a little chubby, and his senses were stuffed to congestion with the yellow radiance of her hair and the unfelt pressure of her soft short fingers, with the rounded, untasted wealth of her nubile breasts in her Army-pink shirt that was opened wide at the throat and with the rolling, ripened, triangular confluences of her belly and thighs in her tight, slick forest-green gabardine officer's pants. He drank her in insatiably from head to painted toenail. He never wanted to lose her.

'Oooooooooooooh,' he moaned again, and this time the whole room rippled at his quavering, drawn-out cry. A wave of startled uneasiness broke over the officers on the dais, and even Major Danby, who had begun synchronizing the watches, was distracted momentarily as he counted out the seconds and almost had to begin again. Nately followed Yossarian's transfixed gaze down the long frame auditorium until he came to General Dreedle's nurse. He blanched with trepidation when he guessed what was troubling Yossarian.

'Cut it out, will you?' Nately warned in a fierce whisper.

'Ooooooooooooooooooooh,' Yossarian moaned a fourth time, this time loudly enough for everyone

to hear him distinctly.

'Are you crazy?' Nately hissed vehemently. 'You'll get into trouble.'

'Ooooooooooooooooooooh,' Dunbar answered Yossarian from the opposite end of the room.

Nately recognized Dunbar's voice. The situation was now out of control, and he turned away with a small moan. 'Ooh.'

'Ooooooooooooooooooooh,' Dunbar moaned back at him.

'Ooooooooooooooooooooh,' Nately moaned out loud in exasperation when he realized that he had just moaned.

'Ooooooooooooooooooooh,' Dunbar moaned back at him again.

'Ooooooooooooooooooooh,' someone entirely new chimed in from another section of the room, and Nately's hair stood on end.

Yossarian and Dunbar both replied while Nately cringed and hunted about futilely for some hole in which to hide and take Yossarian with him. A sprinkling of people were smothering laughter. An elfin impulse possessed Nately and he moaned intentionally the next time there was a lull. Another new voice answered. The flavor of disobedience was titillating, and Nately moaned deliberately again, the next time he could squeeze one in edgewise. Still another new voice echoed him. The room was boiling irrepressibly into bedlam. An eerie hubbub of voices was rising. Feet were scuffled, and things began to drop from people's fingers - pencils, computers, map cases, clattering steel flak helmets. A number of men who were not moaning were now giggling openly, and there was no telling how far the unorganized insurrection of moaning might have gone if General Dreedle himself had not come forward to quell it, stepping out determinedly in the center of the platform directly in front of Major Danby, who, with his earnest, persevering head down, was still concentrating on his wrist watch and saying, '...twenty-five seconds... twenty... fifteen...'

General Dreedle's great, red domineering face was gnarled with perplexity and oaken with awesome resolution.

'That will be all, men,' he ordered tersely, his eyes glaring with disapproval and his square jaw firm, and that's all there was. 'I run a fighting outfit,' he told them sternly, when the room had grown absolutely quiet and the men on the benches were all cowering sheepishly, 'and there'll be no more moaning in this group as long as I'm in command. Is that clear?'

It was clear to everybody but Major Danby, who was still concentrating on his wrist watch and counting down the seconds aloud.

'...four... three... two... one... time!' called out Major Danby, and raised his eyes triumphantly to discover that no one had been listening to him and that he would have to begin all over again. 'Ooooh,' he moaned in frustration.

'What was that?' roared General Dreedle incredulously, and whirled around in a murderous rage upon Major Danby, who staggered back in terrified confusion and began to quail and perspire.

'Who is this man?'

'M-major Danby, sir,' Colonel Cathcart stammered. 'My group operations officer.'

'Take him out and shoot him,' ordered General Dreedle.

'S-sir?'

'I said take him out and shoot him. Can't you hear?'

'Yes, sir!' Colonel Cathcart responded smartly, swallowing hard, and turned in a brisk manner to his chauffeur and his meteorologist. 'Take Major Danby out and shoot him.'

'S-sir?' his chauffeur and his meteorologist stammered.

'I said take Major Danby out and shoot him,' Colonel Cathcart snapped. 'Can't you hear?'

The two young lieutenants nodded lumpishly and gaped at each other in stunned and flaccid reluctance, each waiting for the other to initiate the procedure of taking Major Danby outside and shooting him. Neither had ever taken Major Danby outside and shot him before. They inched their way dubiously toward Major Danby from opposite sides. Major Danby was white with fear. His legs collapsed suddenly and he began to fall, and the two young lieutenants sprang forward and seized him under both arms to save him from slumping to the floor. Now that they had Major Danby, the rest seemed easy, but there were no guns. Major Danby began to cry. Colonel Cathcart wanted to rush to his side and comfort him, but did not want to look like a sissy in front of General Dreedle. He remembered that Appleby and Havermeyer always brought their .45 automatics on the missions, and he began to scan the rows of men in search of them.

As soon as Major Danby began to cry, Colonel Moodus, who had been vacillating wretchedly on the sidelines, could restrain himself no longer and stepped out diffidently toward General Dreedle with a sickly air of self-sacrifice.

'I think you'd better wait a minute, Dad,' he suggested hesitantly. 'I don't think you can shoot him.'

General Dreedle was infuriated by his intervention. 'Who the hell says I can't?' he thundered pugnaciously in a voice loud enough to rattle the whole building.

Colonel Moodus, his face flushing with embarrassment, bent close to whisper into his ear.

'Why the hell can't I?' General Dreedle bellowed.

Colonel Moodus whispered some more.

'You mean I can't shoot anyone I want to?' General Dreedle demanded with uncompromising indignation. He pricked up his ears with interest as Colonel Moodus continued whispering.

'Is that a fact?' he inquired, his rage tamed by curiosity.

'Yes, Dad. I'm afraid it is.'

'I guess you think you're pretty goddam smart, don't you?' General Dreedle lashed out at Colonel Moodus suddenly.

Colonel Moodus turned crimson again. 'No, Dad, it isn't -'

'All right, let the insubordinate son of a bitch go,' General Dreedle snarled, turning bitterly away from his son-in-law and barking peevishly at Colonel Cathcart's chauffeur and Colonel Cathcart's meteorologist. 'But get him out of this building and keep him out. And let's continue this goddam briefing before the war ends. I've never seen so much incompetence.'

Colonel Cathcart nodded lamely at General Dreedle and signaled his men hurriedly to push Major Danby outside the building. As soon as Major Danby had been pushed outside, though, there was no one to continue the briefing. Everyone gawked at everyone else in oafish surprise. General Dreedle turned purple with rage as nothing happened. Colonel Cathcart had no idea what to do. He was about to begin moaning aloud when Colonel Korn came to the rescue by stepping forward and taking control. Colonel Cathcart sighed with enormous, tearful relief, almost overwhelmed with gratitude.

'Now, men, we're going to synchronize our watches,' Colonel Korn began promptly in a sharp, commanding manner, rolling his eyes flirtatiously in General Dreedle's direction. 'We're going to synchronize our watches one time and one time only, and if it doesn't come off in that one time, General Dreedle and I are going to want to know why. Is that clear?' He fluttered his eyes toward General Dreedle again to make sure his plug had registered. 'Now set your watches for nine-eighteen.'

Colonel Korn synchronized their watches without a single hitch and moved ahead with confidence. He gave the men the colors of the day and reviewed the weather conditions with an agile, flashy versatility, casting sidelong, simpering looks at General Dreedle every few seconds to draw increased encouragement from the excellent impression he saw he was making. Preening and pruning himself effulgently and strutting vaingloriously about the platform as he picked up momentum, he gave the men the colors of the day again and shifted nimbly into a rousing pep talk on the importance of the bridge at Avignon to the war effort and the obligation of each man on the mission to place love of country above love of life. When his inspiring dissertation was finished, he gave the men the colors of the day still one more time, stressed the angle of approach and reviewed the weather conditions again. Colonel Korn felt himself at the full height of his powers. He belonged in the spotlight.




More from Catch-22:    Excerpt 1    Excerpt 2



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