cover image Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller

Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller

Tracy Daugherty. St. Martin's, $35 (560p) ISBN 978-0-312-59685-9

Joseph Heller (1923%E2%80%931999) hit the jackpot with Catch-22, his first novel, published 50 years ago. Now we learn nearly everything we wanted to know about the man behind that trailblazing depiction of WWII that, as Daugherty notes, would prove prophetic for the Vietnam generation. Daugherty (Donald Barthelme's biographer) serves up a breezy, entertaining, and well-researched biography worthy in tone and scope of his subject. Daugherty is good at setting the scene of Heller's early lower-middle-class Jewish life amid the surreal glow of Brooklyn's Coney Island and, later, writing about his years as a bombardier with its questions of the amorality of bombing missions that caused civilian casualties. He examines the pressures of sudden fame and fortune (leading to divorce after nearly four decades of marriage), and the devastating consequences of Guillain-Barr%C3%A9 syndrome. Daugherty is especially adroit at describing the high life Heller led amid a more prosaic career in academia, and at outlining dealings with well-known publishers and agents. Daugherty seems to have read everything connected with his subject to give a somewhat spit-shined but mostly fair portrait of the artist who dared to bring a humorous sensibility to the tragedy of modern warfare. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Aug.)