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Long before there was a Catch-22, before there was even a Catch-18 (the novel's original title), Joseph Heller had begun sharpening his skills as a writer, searching for the voice that would best express the peculiarly wry view that he held of the world.
Starting in 1945, with the publication in Story magazine of the short story "I Don't Love You Anymore," Heller began to reach out to an audience of readers damaged and disillusioned by their experiences during World War II. That story dealt with the return home of an American soldier who was having more than a little trouble adjusting.
The stories published following this debut continued to reflect people at odds with the world around them, usually featuring the "little guy," the "underdog," the "average Joe" who beats the odds by surviving in a generally hostile and unwelcoming world.
Written in what is termed the "New York Style," his were stories of urban naturalism, realistic and straightforward, emulating the work of such writers as Irwin Shaw, William Saroyan, John O'Hara, and -- perhaps most especially -- Nelson Algren. For Heller, writing these stories was a part of the learning process, his education on how to get across his own point of view, leading up to the publication of his masterpiece, Catch-22.
Of the stories in this collection, thirteen were written before 1961, when Catch-22 was published; of those, five have never before been published. After Catch-22, Heller forsook the short story form. Though five stories were published after 1961, one -- "World Full of Great Cities" -- was actually written in 1949, three of the other four are spin-offs of Catch-22, and one is a preview of Closing Time.
Rounding out this collection of the complete published short writings of Joseph Heller are a short play and several nonfiction pieces, mostly related to Catch-22.
Heller's early forays into fiction are somewhat memorable, such as "The Girl from Greenwich," a story about vanity, and "A Man Named Flute," wherein a father deals with the discovery of his son's drug use. Also, "World Full of Great Cities" is a disturbing look at what a couple might do to save their marriage. This collection, however, contains a great many works that revolve around Catch-22, or contain characters that appear in that work, including two chapters cut from the novel and published as independent stories: "Love, Dad" and "Yossarian Survives." Not surprisingly, these are the strongest works in the book. "Love, Dad" provides the first introduction to Edward J. Nately III, who "was often lonely and nagged by vague, incipient longings. He contemplated his sophomore year at Harvard without enthusiasm, without joy. Fortunately, the War broke out in time to save him." Joseph Heller will be known forever for his great novel, Catch-22, and Catch As Catch Can serves to back up this notion. --Michael Ferch
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