Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here

Joseph L. Heller, Author
Joseph L. Heller, Author Alfred A. Knopf $24 (240p) ISBN 978-0-375-40062-9
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Heller (Catch-22) is always worth reading, but this not-quite-chronological memoir--mostly concerning his youth--seems a bit deceiving. Though the book is not presented as the first volume of an autobiography, at about page 195 Heller offhandedly promises a sequel, thus leaving for another volume discussion of his post-Catch-22 writings, plus much of his adult personal life, some of which was covered in the memoir No Laughing Matter (written with Speed Vogel). That said, Heller, who was born in 1923, writes with affection and wit of his Coney Island youth in a Jewish community that was poor, nurturing and mostly supportive except for ingrained silence about Heller's father, who died when the author was five. Along the way, Heller hints at his own capacity for anxiety and denial; he recounts his psychoanalysis, as well as his recognition of the enduring theme of death in his books. Curiously, Heller writes more about his teenage jobs in Manhattan and his wartime assignment in Virginia than about the air force experience that produced his landmark first novel. He also sketches his youthful writing ambitions, his days as a postwar college student and his time working in advertising. He returns finally to Coney Island, recounting the fates of neighborhood characters. However engaging, the book--which includes chapters titled ""On and On"" and ""And On and On""--seems incomplete. (Feb.)
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