Review

Catch As Catch Can: The Collected Stories and Other Writings

Joseph Heller, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Park Bucker



An editors' note appears in the early pages of CATCH AS CATCH CAN,
a collection of short stories and other short pieces by Joseph
Heller, the late novelist most famous for his 1961 novel CATCH-22.
The note informs readers that the texts are unaltered because
writers who have passed on cannot approve changes. Editors Matthew
J. Bruccoli and Park Bucker evidently also believe that dead
writers need not be subject to much critical inquiry other than
that written by the author himself --- and this apparent belief
weakens what is otherwise a useful and, for the most part,
entertaining collection.

Bruccoli's forward to CATCH AS CATCH CAN would be more properly
credited to Heller, drawing as it does on Heller's 1998 memoir NOW
AND THEN. Bruccoli's few comments, placed in and around extended
quotations from Heller's book, offer little of interpretive value
and explain almost nothing about the selection of the previously
unpublished stories that appear in the book. Heller wrote twenty
short stories that were never published, we are told. CATCH AS
CATCH CAN includes five of those stories. There is no explanation
as to why the other fifteen were not included.

Bruccoli is correct in his brief assessment of the stories that do
appear, both published and previously unpublished. Those written
prior to CATCH-22 (which is the vast majority) are fairly
successful stories written in the prevailing literary styles of the
times and lacking Heller's trademark zaniness and biting satirical
wit.

However, it is the material relating to CATCH-22 that is most
interesting and entertaining in this collection. CATCH AS CATCH CAN
includes two parts of the original manuscript that did not survive
the final edit, but were reprinted as short stories in
Playboy in 1969 and 1987, respectively. In 1990, Heller
published two pieces of his upcoming CLOSING TIME, a CATCH-22
sequel, in Smart magazine and The Nation (as well as
The Guardian), respectively; both appear in the collection.
CATCH AS CATCH CAN also includes a one-act play, "Clevinger's
Trial," a dramatization of a scene from the novel that was dropped
from a script of the entire book, as well as five non-fiction
pieces featuring Heller's various comments about the novel.

The CATCH-22 material alone would make this book a must-have for
Heller fans. The additional stories are an added, if unexamined,
bonus.

Reviewed by Rob Cline on January 21, 2011

Catch As Catch Can: The Collected Stories and Other Writings
Joseph Heller, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Park Bucker

  • Publication Date: March 2, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743257936
  • ISBN-13: 9780743257930