Wednesday, February 6, 2013

From the Pen of Joseph Heller

For all the attention Catch-22 gets for being a "hardee har har," laugh-a-minute, military  satire, I think Joseph Heller often gets short shrift as a wordsmith. Here are just a few highlights from my recent turn through his masterpiece. All highlights are mine. They're just a few of the lines that struck me as particularly powerful.
The only end in sight was Yossarian’s own, and he might have remained in the hospital until doomsday had it not been for that patriotic Texan with his infundibuliform jowls and his lumpy, rumple-headed indestructible smile, cracked forever across the front of his face like the brim of a black ten-gallon hat.
Havermeyer was the best damn bombardier they had, but he flew straight and level all the way from the IP to the target, and even far beyond the target until he saw the falling bombs strike ground and explode in a darting spurt of abrupt orange, that flashed beneath the swirling pall of smoke and pulverized debris geysering up wildly in huge rolling waves of gray and black.
Each day’s delay deepened the awareness and deepened the gloom. The clinging, overpowering conviction of death spread steadily with the continuing rainfall, soaking mordantly into each man’s ailing countenance like the corrosive blot of some crawling disease. Everyone smelled of formaldehyde.
Major _ _ DeCoverly was a splendid, awe-inspiring, grave old man with a massive, leonine head and an angry shock of wild white hair that raged like a blizzard around his stern, patriarchal face.
Major _ _ DeCoverly straightened with astonishment at Milo’s affrontery and concentrated upon him the full  fury of his storming countenance with its rugged overhang of gullied forehead, and huge crag of a hump-backed nose that came charging out of his face wrathfully like a Big 10 fullback.
Along the ground suddenly on both sides of the path he saw dozens of new mushrooms the rain had spawned, poking their nodular fingers up through the clammy earth like lifeless stocks of flesh, sprouting in such necrotic profusion everywhere he looked that they seemed to be proliferating right before his eyes.

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