Sunday, February 15, 2015

Review: Closing Time

Closing Time
Closing Time by Joseph Heller

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When told that he he'd never written another book as good as Catch-22, Heller reportedly replied, "Who has?" Yet with Closing Time, he seems weighed down by the legacy of his masterpiece. Considering what a surreal and inventive ride Catch 22 was, this long-delayed sequel was a bit of a joyless slog.

We meet Yossarian in old age, working on a consultancy basis for Milo Minderbinder and ex-PFC Wintergreen, who are now selling useless items to the US government. We also meet Sammy Singer, the tail-gunner who kept fainting as Yossarian tried to keep Snowden alive. Chaplain Tappmann also makes an appearance, in the protective custody of the government while they try to find out how his body is naturally producing raw materials for atomic weapons. The most notable new character is Lew Rabinowitz, another veteran whose story is probably the most engaging of all.

What robs Closing Time of the fascination that made Catch-22 a classic is the absence of danger and of a functioning insane organisation. Yossarian's (and Heller's) cynicism and sanity have nothing to fight against, and so flail impotently. Meanwhile the book meanders between satire, fantasy, surrealism and science-fiction without ever succeeding at any of them. Lew's story includes his experiences of the bombing of Dresden, and the absurdist sci-fi that surrounds it suggests that Heller somehow wanted to re-write, 25 years too late, [b:Slaughterhouse-Five|4981|Slaughterhouse-Five|Kurt Vonnegut||1683562]; the masterpiece of his friend [a:Kurt Vonnegut|2778055|Kurt Vonnegut|]. Vonnegut is briefly mentioned as a character, as is 'Joey Heller' and even Schweik. The latter appearance is so cursory that he only seems to be there to show that Heller had read [b:The Good Soldier Schweik|23668974|The Good Soldier Schweik|Jaroslav Hašek||42981159].

Towards the end, we're treated to several pages listing the ludicrously opulent offerings at a high-society wedding. No point is being made, other than to show up the pointless ostentation of the wealthy. This isn't even aiming at easy targets. Heller simply shows us the barn door two feet away and invites us to hit it ourselves. This sums up the book's aimlessness: just as the author should be using the closing pages to set the reader up for the denouement, or the great philosophical revelation at the heart of the book, he simply seems to shrug his shoulders and say, "The rich, eh? What are they like?"

Yes, there are some poignant moments and some wonderful humour, as you'd expect from Heller, but the whole of Closing Time is so much less than the sum of its parts.

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