Tracy Daugherty: "Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller"

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:53
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Joseph Heller is best known as the author of "Catch 22," regarded as one of the finest books in American literature. The title is also a permanent part of our lexicon. But despite the fact he was defined by it, Heller did not consider the book to be his best. On the 50th anniversary of the publication of the anti-war novel, two new biographies are out on Joseph Heller. One is by his daughter, Erica. She'll just us later in the show.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:43
But first, joining me in the studio is Tracy Daugherty. He is the author of "Just One Catch." I know many of you are fans, perhaps even critics, of Joseph Heller. I invite you to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email at drshow@wamu.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Tracy Daugherty's book is titled, "Just One Catch." Good morning to you.

MR. TRACY DAUGHERTY

11:08:26
Good morning. Thank you for having me.

REHM

11:08:27
Good to have you here, Tracy. You use a quote at the start of the book. Read that for us, would you?

DAUGHERTY

11:08:37
In 1975, Joseph Heller said, it is impossible to predict or control how you will be remembered after your death. In that way, dying is like having children, you never know what will come out. In Beckett's "Endgame," he asks his parents in effect why did you have me, and the father replies, we didn't know it would be you.

REHM

11:09:00
Why did you choose that particular quote?

DAUGHERTY

11:09:04
The novel that you referenced in your introduction that Heller felt was his best was a novel called, "Something Happened," which he published in 1974, and it is a very autobiographical novel about a man working as an advertising business person, and his family, and as he puts it in the novel, his unhappy wife and his unhappy children. And so it's a very eviscerating portrait of family life and I do think this family, and Erica can address this when we joins us, was made quite unhappy by it. So the whole idea of family and how family will remember you was very much on his mind.

REHM

11:09:42
Interesting. Why has "Catch 22" endured so long? Fifty years for this book.

DAUGHERTY

11:09:53
It is, as you said, an anti-war novel, but I think it's much more than that, and I think a couple of reasons why it has endured. Unfortunately, war continues to be a timely topic, so the book continues to be timely. But the satire is really beyond war, and really goes after bureaucratic institutions and the absurdities that we all get trapped in, the rules and the counter-rules that keep us all paralyzed in whatever institution we find ourselves in. And over time, of course, our institutions and bureaucracies have become only more bloated.

REHM

11:10:25
But how did the critics receive it?

DAUGHERTY

11:10:28
The book got very mixed reviews upon its initial publication, and some very harsh ones in fact. And so it did not gain traction for several years, and really it was because the Vietnam War heated up in the mid to late '60s, and the book, even though it was set in World War II, came to be seen as prophetic of what was happening in Vietnam, and then was taken up as a cult book.

REHM

11:10:53
And of course, Joseph Heller himself was a bombardier in World War II. He witnessed some pretty awful stuff, and out of that came "Catch 22."

DAUGHERTY

11:11:09
It did. He flew 60 bombing missions, and statistically, the chances of surviving that many missions was pretty nearly zero. So he managed to escape that, and then 20 years later get this book out of it. One of the myths, though, about Heller and "Catch 22" that I try to debunk is that many people feel the war is what created his cynicism and his irony and his attitude toward absurdity.

REHM

11:11:32
It was there early.

DAUGHERTY

11:11:33
But I think that that sensibility was fixed quite early from his very strange childhood in Coney Island, and the war just solidified it.

REHM

11:11:40
Tell me about that strange upbringing in Coney Island.

DAUGHERTY

11:11:44
Well, Coney was a very baffling place to begin with. It was full of immigrants and different languages. He heard so many different languages on the street every day even in his own home his mother spoke very little English. It was a residential area, but also an amusement park. It was supposed to be a place of fun and happiness, but it was quite desperate and dirty in many ways, hard to find jobs, so a lot of conflicting experiences and within his own family.

DAUGHERTY

11:12:11
He did not find out until he was in his teens that his brother and his sister were not really quite his brother and sister. They were stepbrother and stepsister. No one had bothered to tell him this. So his early experiences from childhood through adolescence were filled with contradictions and missing information and gaps and this, of course, all feeds into the idea of "Catch 22."

REHM

11:12:34
Tell me about his father who was early on a really harsh critic.

DAUGHERTY

11:12:43
His father died when Heller was four and his name was Isaac Heller, a Russian immigrant, and a very demanding man and also a man who withheld a great deal, as I mentioned. He did not really reveal to his children, and of course, didn't have a chance to with Joseph, because he died with Joseph was so young, about the family dynamic. But Joseph's older brother did say that the father was quite harsh and a verbal bully of sorts, and so this was part of the family background as well.

REHM

11:13:14
Didn't that older brother at one point run away?

DAUGHERTY

11:13:18
He did. He was very much -- during the depression he ran off and hitchhiked west to try to get a job because there was nothing there, and he was also ashamed. He didn't want to face his father without a job. And so, yeah, the family was quite fractured early on.

REHM

11:13:35
And after his father died when Joseph was four, the family had to move to a smaller, much less expensive apartment.

DAUGHERTY

11:13:45
Yes. Yes. Exactly. Yes. And the mother was working as a seamstress, and at that point, Joseph's older brother had to be the breadwinner essentially, and….

REHM

11:13:56
How did he do that?

DAUGHERTY

11:13:57
Various odd jobs. He never quite settled. He did very many things and gave up his dream of going to college and later than became a bit jealous of Joseph who, because of the GI bill, because of the war, one of the fortunate recurrences or occurrences because of the war, Joseph was able to go to college and surpass his brother in that sense. But Joseph in a sense was raised by his brother.

REHM

11:14:12
Really?

DAUGHERTY

11:14:23
Mm-hmm.

REHM

11:14:24
Extraordinarily bright was Joseph early on.

DAUGHERTY

11:14:29
Exactly, yes. He outpaced his schoolmates, he was considered a loudmouth and a bit of a bully himself, so he was quite charismatic, wanting attention very early but also frustrating his teachers because he knew all the answers and intimidated his classmates.

REHM

11:14:45
And even if he looked bored, he knew the answer.

DAUGHERTY

11:14:49
He did. He did. He was one of those students that all teachers, and I can speak to this being a teacher, don't know what to do with because you look at them and you think they're not paying attention. You try to catch them and in fact they are paying attention and he knows everything.

REHM

11:15:03
His manner, I gather, from very early on was shall we say obstreperous.

DAUGHERTY

11:15:12
Indeed. And one early teacher decided the way to tone him down was to put him in charge, so she left the room one day and said you're in charge, you make the others behave.

REHM

11:15:24
How old was he at the time?

DAUGHERTY

11:15:25
Oh, this is -- I think this was eighth grade. I found this in a letter that one of his classmates wrote him many years later. Remember when you were put in charge of the class? But that was the way they to get you to behave and diffuse you.

REHM

11:15:38
How really very special. He also, though, was lashing out at his sister, at his mother, at his brother. I mean, he was not easy to get along with.

DAUGHERTY

11:15:53
He was not. And he does say that when he learned that his mother was the stepmother of his brother and sister, and that he had not been told the family history, he became angry and he stifled the emotion, as he put it, but he did take the anger out in other ways. His sister would come home smelling of cigarettes, for example, or she would come home one day having bleached her hair, and he would lash out at her for these things which he didn't really care about, but that was his way of trying to get back at her for not being intimate with him and not telling him the story.

REHM

11:16:28
I interviewed Joseph Heller in February of 1998, shortly after we had moved here to these studios for his book "Now and Then."

DAUGHERTY

11:16:43
Yes, his memoir.

REHM

11:16:44
And what did critics say about that book?

DAUGHERTY

11:16:50
This was -- the memoir was subtitled "From Coney Island to Here." And so this was Joseph Heller telling his full story, supposedly. But most critics felt that the book showed very little self-awareness, that he skimmed the surface of things, he was not very reflective, would not talk very much about the emotional issues in his life. I found in reading the book for my biography and looking for his version of his childhood, that he had a very nostalgic take on his childhood, that he -- it almost reads like an old World War II newsreel. It has that kind of amber glow to it, the prose does.

DAUGHERTY

11:17:29
So it's a very pleasant book, and a very nostalgic book, but in fact -- and I do think he honestly remembered his life that way later, but I do think it covered up a lot of the deep pain that he felt.

REHM

11:17:40
He had that gruff exterior.

DAUGHERTY

11:17:44
He did, but I think that was also common to men of his generation and his time and place. It was, you didn't show your emotions, you were a tough guy.

REHM

11:17:53
One thing that was extraordinarily important to him was money.

DAUGHERTY

11:17:58
Indeed. Indeed. There is an anecdote during his father's funeral which he didn't really realize was a funeral. He thought it was a big family party. But at one point, an aunt presses a dollar bill into his hand, and he did say later on that at that moment, money and life and death all became intertwined in his mind. That may be a little bit of revisionist memory, but for him money was life, and lack of money was death.

REHM

11:18:25
Tracy Daugherty, he's author and biographer. His biography of Joseph Heller is titled "Just One Catch." When we come back, we'll talk to Joseph Heller's daughter, Erica.

REHM

11:20:02
Welcome back. Joining us now is Erica Heller. She is the daughter of Joseph Heller. She's the author of a new book. It's titled "Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller was Dad, The Apthorp was Home, and Life Was a Catch-22." Good morning to you, Erica. Thanks for joining us.

MS. ERICA HELLER

11:20:29
Thanks for having me, Diane.

REHM

11:20:31
Erica, I'm so interested that you open the book with your mother's deathbed statements after her then ex-husband Joseph sent her flowers at the hospital. Tell me about that scene.

HELLER

11:20:52
Well, it was a very poignant moment. My mother was very, very sick and I had been taking care of her for a while. And they had been married for 38 years before they divorced. And my father would call me every night at her apartment for a report on her that day. So he was very, very concerned about her, but would never -- they never spoke again after the divorce.

HELLER

11:21:25
And at some point when my mother was dying, I explained to him that he would have to either talk to her or write to her or send flowers or do something to make peace with her 'cause it had been so acrimonious. And I could tell that he had a lot of unsettled business with her and was still very emotionally tied to her. And so we had a phone call one night about this and he was -- you used the perfect word before regarding him -- gruff and hung up on me. He said, I don't need you tell me what to do and hung up.

HELLER

11:22:09
And the next day, I was in her hospital room and someone came in with a huge, huge, huge glorious bouquet of flowers and they were from him. And the card said, I'm so sorry, Joe. And my mother just looked at it and at first she didn't know which Joe had sent it, 'cause she knew several. And when I explained that it was dad, she said, well, he is a sorry soul. And then told me, which comes up later in my book many times, no matter what ever happened to never, ever, ever divulge her mother's pot roast recipe to him. So I...

REHM

11:22:57
The pot roast recipe.

HELLER

11:22:59
Yes.

REHM

11:23:00
That was so...

HELLER

11:23:00
Pot roast was very important.

REHM

11:23:02
And very important to him, I gather, who had asked for that recipe...

HELLER

11:23:06
Yes, it was.

REHM

11:23:09
...again and again, and again.

HELLER

11:23:12
And offered me $10,000 cash for it several times.

REHM

11:23:14
Did he really?

HELLER

11:23:16
Yes, he did. It was a crisis of conscience for many, Diane.

REHM

11:23:20
By then, Erica, by the time your mother was dying, had your father remarried?

HELLER

11:23:29
Yes, he had.

REHM

11:23:30
But he...

HELLER

11:23:30
He married...

REHM

11:23:31
Go ahead.

HELLER

11:23:32
-- he had been sick with Guillain-Barre syndrome...

REHM

11:23:35
Yes.

HELLER

11:23:36
...and ended up marrying his nurse.

REHM

11:23:39
I remember talking with him after that had happened, but nevertheless, even though he had married again, he still considered your mother his wife.

HELLER

11:23:56
That was my feeling. And with my father, as Tracy knows and anyone who really has studied him or knew him, you could never really tell anything a thousand percent. Everything was always contradictory. Everything was always a little bit of this, a little bit of that. But I think reading between the lines, as I did, certainly when I was writing my book, I came to that conclusion that they had still been very, very deeply tied to each other even in acrimony, as people can be.

REHM

11:24:38
Did they separate and divorce because of his philandering or was it simply after 38 years your mother decided enough was enough?

HELLER

11:24:56
Well, I think it could -- I think it was everything. I think my mother had tremendous trouble with "Something Happened." She was very hurt by her portrayal, the portrayal of my brother and myself, the whole nature of it, which was this scornful, disaffected, unhappy griping man with this perfectly normal family being so, so deeply unhappy. And I don't think she ever really recovered from that with him.

HELLER

11:25:34
And the philandering, I think, she was sort of aware of, but she didn't have specifics. And as long as things weren't specific, she could turn her head and deal with it. But at some point, somebody became very specific and they had many arguments about it. And I think what would've been required of him at that point in order to stay married was to change his behavior. And I don't think he was willing to -- I think he wanted to stay married and have his old life back and that was not going to happen.

REHM

11:26:15
Tracy Daugherty, in writing your biography "Just One Catch" there are many photographs in the book, which are really fun to see. But I wonder if you came across Joseph Heller's womanizing.

DAUGHERTY

11:26:35
Oh, certainly. And of course, Erica and I were in weekly and sometimes daily contact when we were both writing our respective books. And so I heard a lot of stories from Erica as well. But, yes, there was plenty of evidence of that, including some letters and some court testimonies in the archives at the University of South Carolina, which I went through. So it was all there.

DAUGHERTY

11:26:56
One kind of footnote, though, to the "Something Happened" story, it's fascinating to hear Erica talk about the portrait of her family that she and her mother saw in the book, which is true enough. It is quite autobiographical, obviously. But the other fascinating side of that coin is to look at his rough drafts and the notes he took in preparation for that novel, which I was privileged to do there in the archives, and to see that he spent almost 14 years taking notes and rewriting it.

DAUGHERTY

11:27:23
So it's not like this was just one unconscious kind of blurt about his family life.

REHM

11:27:29
Right.

DAUGHERTY

11:27:30
It was a very disciplined project as well. And that's what's odd about it.

REHM

11:27:33
But, Erica, he once said, I don't do kids. So what was he like as a father?

HELLER

11:27:45
He was a mixed bag, Diane. He was very self-involved, unless there was something interesting happening with us. And in that case, he was involved in that. And it sounds haphazard, but I think it kind of was. He was primarily, I think, and I think Tracy would agree, he was a writer. And I think writers are working all the time, even if they're at the dinner table or at the movies or Coney Island having a hot dog.

DAUGHERTY

11:28:22
It's terrible, isn't it?

HELLER

11:28:22
And so I think he -- there was always a preoccupation. You never felt that you really had his full attention, which could be very frustrating I think for young children. As I got older I learned how to get his attention but it was not...

REHM

11:28:43
Like how? Like how?

HELLER

11:28:45
Well, like being a terrible student, unfortunately. He could sit and look bored in school when he was small and know the answers.

REHM

11:28:54
Right.

HELLER

11:28:55
I didn't know the answers...

REHM

11:28:56
I see.

HELLER

11:28:57
...and probably looked bored.

REHM

11:28:59
I gather he refused to meet your boyfriends.

HELLER

11:29:06
Yes. That was sort of an early edict and I was very, very small at the time. I don't remember how small, but he told me he did not want to meet boyfriends. He did not want to ever have to go to a wedding if I had a wedding. And again, it was the mysterious sum of $10,000 cash, which for him must have had some great meaning. But if I were to get married, to elope and he would pay me $10,000 in cash.

REHM

11:29:38
Wow. In "Something Happened," he has a chapter called My Daughter's Unhappy. And I wonder how that made you feel.

HELLER

11:29:54
It made his daughter extremely unhappy. I was devastated. There's no clever way to get around that. I was demolished because of what Tracy said, because my father sat with that day after day, year after year and knew that I would see it. And it was so, so close to the dynamic that we had. It was verbatim conversations.

HELLER

11:30:28
And the most interesting thing to me about "Something Happened" was his unwillingness or -- he did not see that as his story if you spoke to him about it. He did not consider it autobiographical. That man, Bob Slocum, was not him. And in some way that let him write about us that way. And that was the most interesting part as I got older and older and read it again. His lack of awareness about himself was the most compelling thing about it to me.

REHM

11:31:10
How did -- did you ask him why he wrote about you in that way?

HELLER

11:31:19
Oh, I certainly did. I did and he said, it wasn't you and what makes you think you're interesting enough to be written about. So as always there were Talmudic questions that were unanswerable. There was no real debate. There was no place to go from there. You know, it's very much like the quote that you quoted at the start of your show when people would ask him, how come you've never written anything as good as "Catch 22" again? And he would answer, who has? And he would mean it. But it was also not an answer. It was an end to a discussion.

REHM

11:32:04
Is the story about pizza a true one?

HELLER

11:32:10
Yes. I mean...

REHM

11:32:12
Tell me that story.

HELLER

11:32:14
Well, we lived in the Apthorp which was -- had a wonderful courtyard, still has a wonderful courtyard. I live there now. And we had a second-floor apartment overlooking the courtyard. And my brother and I sometimes would play down there. And my father would call out the window and say I want a pizza. And if we didn't feel like getting a pizza we couldn't get back into the apartment.

REHM

11:32:44
You mean he'd lock the door?

HELLER

11:32:46
He would lock the door or else if we went in, he would not be very friendly. He wanted a pizza.

REHM

11:32:54
Erica Heller. Her new book is titled "Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller was Dad, the Apthorp was Home and Life Was a Catch-22." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." As you think about war, Tracy, do you think that Joseph Heller's experiences flying missions over France in August of '44, do you believe they shaped his life in such a way that he had to write "Catch 22?"

DAUGHERTY

11:33:44
I do. And there was one particular mission in which he details in the novel in which the plane was hit by enemy flack and he thought they were going down. And the gunner -- the tail gunner on that flight was wounded and he had to help the young man. So the scene in "Catch 22" that keeps being repeated in glimpses where the young man is saying, I'm cold, I'm cold and Yossarian feels he's only wounded in a minor way, but we then see the full horror late in the book and comedy then turns to tragedy.

DAUGHERTY

11:34:15
That all actually happened and Heller felt that day that this is not an abstraction. They're trying to kill me personally. And after that, he wanted to go home. And this, of course, is at the heart of "Catch 22."

REHM

11:34:27
Erica, how did your dad react after "Catch 22" came out?

HELLER

11:34:37
He anticipated its success in a way that any writer ought to envy, I think. He assumed that people would understand it and would embrace it. And there were people around him who weren't so sure and it did take a while to get traction. But I think he knew beforehand that he was going to write something that was going to be extraordinary. And there may be many writers who think that, but he knew it. And when it came, he was not surprised. He was very happy. He enjoyed his success as much as anyone I've ever seen, but I don't think he was surprised.

REHM

11:35:32
It's interesting, Tracy. He actually tried to keep from getting drafted and then finally wanted to join the Air Force.

DAUGHERTY

11:35:44
He did. The army lowered -- or the government lowered the draft age from 21 to 19 and he knew at that point that there was no way he could avoid. And so he enlisted at that point in order to choose his own branch of the service. And he said years later that he -- "Catch 22" was not an anti-war novel as he saw it. That he thought after Pearl Harbor there was no choice except to go to war. He thought the war had to be fought. He would never say that we shouldn't have engaged the Nazis.

DAUGHERTY

11:36:11
And in later years, a lot of critics said that he backtracked in saying these things. But in fact, from the beginning, he was saying, this is not an anti-war novel. The war was actually good to me.

REHM

11:36:21
Interesting that the original title was "Catch 18." Why?

DAUGHERTY

11:36:27
That was an arbitrary number in the early drafts that he just picked. He wanted to make fun of military rules and suggest they were all arbitrary and so he picked an arbitrary number. But he worked on the book so long, over a decade, that that number 18 was entrenched in his mind. So that when he had to change it at the last minute because Leon Uris was coming out with a book called "Mila 18" and his editor said, we can't have two war books with the number 18 in the title.

REHM

11:36:52
Bob Gottlieb stepped in.

DAUGHERTY

11:36:53
Bob Gottlieb. It was devastating because that number had become so fixed in all of their minds.

REHM

11:36:59
Bob Gottlieb is totally persuasive. I know that because he was my editor as well. How did your dad react to having to change that name, Erica?

HELLER

11:37:15
I remember that there was some panic and my parents would be throwing numbers around together and 18 didn't -- 19 didn't sound funny and 58 sounded too funny. And there were a lot of phone calls. And Bob Gottlieb eventually came up with 22. Twenty-two was it.

REHM

11:37:37
And that was -- that was it. Erica Heller and Tracy Daugherty. We'll take a short break and come back for your calls.

REHM

11:40:01
And welcome back. It's time to open the phones 800-433-8850. First to Gaithersburg, Md. Good morning, Joan, you're on the air.

JOAN

11:40:16
Oh, hi.

REHM

11:40:17
Hi.

JOAN

11:40:17
I just thought I'd call because my father served on Corsica with -- in the same bomb group that Joseph Heller served in. And after he died in 1998, I made a website with all his letters to my father and her diary during the same period. And I always thought that my dad should've continued his -- he started out wanting to -- or not wanting to write, but he was a writer and he had things published in his college, you know, literary magazine and stuff like that.

JOAN

11:40:49
And his letters were so awesome and filled with stories as -- similar to what's in "Catch 22." But now I'm kind of glad he went into accounting and didn't continue to write because I might've had the same traumatic childhood. But I did have a lot of, you know, similar stories in my childhood.

REHM

11:41:12
Interesting.

JOAN

11:41:13
He was a Greek-American and grew up in Chicago and was, you know, beat up for being Greek and had a lot of issues and stuff like that.

REHM

11:41:21
Yeah.

JOAN

11:41:21
But it's just -- I've always been interested in the book and his life story. And because of that, the -- reading the book is just like reading his letters, except that his book is probably more graphic.

REHM

11:41:38
Interesting, Tracy.

DAUGHERTY

11:41:40
One of the fascinating things for me is that since writing the book and even during the writing of the book, I heard from a lot of sons of veterans. Some of whom served with Joseph Heller. And just a couple of weeks ago, I heard from the son of Doc Marino who was the real-life model for Doc Daneeka in the book. And I had suspected -- Eric and I actually talked about this and did a little detective work or tried to. I suspected that Joseph Heller might've gotten a medical discharge early.

DAUGHERTY

11:42:06
Because he didn't fly all the missions he was supposed to fly. We could not prove this. Erica filled the paperwork out and got the government to respond which is a miracle and we got his discharge records and there was nothing unusual. But this man, Doc Marino's, son wrote and said I think you're right because my father used to talk about that. He was the doctor in the union.

REHM

11:42:27
Oh, I see.

DAUGHERTY

11:42:27
And then he would sometimes, you know, give people breaks. So he can't...

REHM

11:42:32
But what kind of medical discharge...

DAUGHERTY

11:42:33
...it's not provable...

REHM

11:42:34
...would he have gotten?

DAUGHERTY

11:42:35
Well, what we call PTSD, now...

REHM

11:42:37
I see.

DAUGHERTY

11:42:38
...and what they called Shell Shock then.

REHM

11:42:39
PTSD, yeah. Interesting. Thanks for calling, Joan. Erica, I have a question for you. After something happened, was published, you actually wrote something in Harper's Magazine that gave your point of view about what your father had written. What did you say in that article and how did your father react?

HELLER

11:43:12
My father was very happy that I was being published, I remember. It was a long, long time ago. And I remember more what it wasn't, which was vitriolic. I think I tried to be humorous. It was an issue about families and I sort of parodied something happened a little bit. But the thing I would like to stress here and I haven't really had the opportunity yet, is that he was an incredibly funny man. It was very, very hard when I talk about a difficult childhood, it was also sort of magical.

HELLER

11:43:59
Because he was -- he had this idiosyncratic wit, which never, never stopped and nobody...

REHM

11:44:07
But did you get it?

HELLER

11:44:09
I eventually did, yes.

REHM

11:44:12
Eventually.

HELLER

11:44:12
It was very hard not to laugh at him...

REHM

11:44:14
Yeah.

HELLER

11:44:15
...pretty much all the time because the wit was so extraordinary, even if it was aimed at someone.

REHM

11:44:24
I would think, as a child, one perhaps insecure by being put down for one thing or another that understanding one's parent's humor, especially if it's aimed at someone as you say, would be difficult.

HELLER

11:44:50
Well, I think you rise to the occasion. There was -- my father had very funny friends that were in our house a lot. And there was a lot of bantering and a lot of joking. And I think, we learned very early that that was the currency of conversation. And a lot of it we took personally, I can't speak for my brother, and a lot of it I didn't. I know that a lot of it was just about being funny. And it was something that he couldn't help and I think that comes across in "Catch 22," the part of it that I've read, so far.

REHM

11:45:34
All right. Let's go to a caller in Chevy Chase, Md. Good morning, Jim.

JIM

11:45:41
Good morning. Enjoying the show so much. Joseph Heller was the greatest thing in the world to me when I was in the service. I went in during peacetime, '61 to '63 and I served my last year and half at Fort Hood, Texas. And I read "Catch 22." We had a great guy who said, you got to read this. He kept me in his book and I believe he is Yossarian. He kept me somewhat sane so I didn't go AWAL, looking at all the ridiculous stuff, serving in a peacetime Army. And what's more than that, he'll always be with me, Erica. Your dad was one of the greatest guys in the entire world and I'll never forget him.

REHM

11:46:21
What about that?

JIM

11:46:22
Thank you so much.

REHM

11:46:22
Thanks so much for calling, Jim. What about that? Is he Yossarian?

DAUGHERTY

11:46:28
Oh, absolutely. And I think we just heard why "Catch 22" caught on the way it did. And the notice or the notion that he was serving in a peacetime Army is interesting because one of the things that Heller used to say all the time in interviews is, again, this is not an anti-war book, this is -- in some ways a book about peacetime and when war mentality gets applied to peacetime. And that was something that Heller felt was happening during the '60s.

REHM

11:46:55
Here's an email from Mark in Anne Arbor, Mich. who says "As a huge fan of the novel, I found myself balking at your repeated description of it as an anti-war classic. It is, in my mind, a microcosm of the world and the absurdity of the human endeavor." Did he clearly state it was intended to be anti-war, Tracy?

DAUGHERTY

11:47:28
No, not at all. He would rebuke that notion all the time and again say that the war had to be fought. And war is not really the subject. Going back to the notion that his sensibility was formed early on in childhood, the anxieties, the sense that the world is absurd goes much deeper then war. War is just part of the bigger picture.

REHM

11:47:50
All right. Caller in Hickory, N.C., good morning, Scott.

SCOTT

11:47:56
Good morning. Yeah, a long time fan of Joseph Heller's. I thoroughly enjoyed all his writings. One thing that's just always kicked around in the back of my mind is, what if any kind of working relationship or shared perspective, Joseph Heller might've had with Kurt Vonnegut who, I mean, they both seemed to be obviously deeply affected by World War II from obviously two very different perspectives. And was wondering if either of you were aware of any kind of relationship they had.

DAUGHERTY

11:48:36
Well certainly they were...

HELLER

11:48:36
I'd like to answer that.

DAUGHERTY

11:48:37
...yeah, I think Erica should answer. She was there. But certainly they were also literary kin.

REHM

11:48:43
Go ahead.

HELLER

11:48:43
They were friends. They were friends. They both lived in East Hampton, at the end of their lives. Kurt also lived in New York sometimes, as did my father. But they had great respect for one another and I think great respect for each other's work. And one of the things somebody keeps asking me, since my book came out, is what writers were in your life? What famous writers were in your house all the time?

HELLER

11:49:16
And who did you come across, did you meet this one, did you meet that one? I found, in my experience, that writers put together were not always so comfortable or liked sharing the spotlight or talking about each other's work. And Kurt and my father, I think, were an exception. They genuinely enjoyed each other and they were proud of each other's books. And interested and they laughed a lot.

REHM

11:49:50
Is it true, Erica or Tracy, that Kurt Vonnegut was a POW in Dresden while Heller was overhead in a bomber, Tracy?

DAUGHERTY

11:50:05
Oh, over Dresden? I don't believe so, no.

REHM

11:50:08
You don't believe so?

DAUGHERTY

11:50:09
No, no. No. They were in the war at the same but I don't believe that Joseph Heller actually flew over Dresden while Kurt Vonnegut was a prisoner.

REHM

11:50:17
Okay.

DAUGHERTY

11:50:17
That's -- it's a nice story but I don't think so.

REHM

11:50:19
Okay. That was a question from Ron in Stow, Ohio. Erica, for you, tell us about the Guillain-Barrè syndrome that your dad suffered and left him paralyzed for a time.

HELLER

11:50:39
Yes, my parents had separated, it was several months after. And he was getting ready, one Sunday morning, to have brunch with some friends in from out of town. And he noticed that he didn't have the strength to button his shirt when he was getting dressed. And very, very quickly, I think, he began to develop a weakness through his whole body and went by ambulance to Mount Sinai Hospital to intensive care. And things had to be ruled out.

HELLER

11:51:19
It was a very complicated process. And within a couple of days they knew it was a viral infection of the nervous system and it did leave him paralyzed. He could always speak with some difficulty but he could speak. But everything else was gone and he had to eventually relearn sitting up, walking and he was very, very fiercely dedicated to that. And he worked very hard.

REHM

11:51:49
Do you have any reason to believe that the separation from your mother played some role in that illness?

HELLER

11:52:03
I don't really know. I think he was in a -- he was certainly in a state of turmoil. He was firing everybody. He fired his editors, he fired his accountants. He fired -- he was breaking loose of everything when this happened. So he was in some chaos and turmoil and I think really, as I said before, he was going to get divorced but I don't think either of my parents really wanted that. But it had gotten too far along by then. And so I think, maybe, he may have had less of a fight in him to ward off something like this. I -- nobody really was ever able to say why you get it.

REHM

11:52:53
It was actually, he, who filed for divorce from your mother?

HELLER

11:53:02
Well, he was very angry at that point because my mother wanted him to leave and I think, just financially, he wanted things to be settled. And also he was able to get out a lot of his aggression that way, by having a divorce. And they actually had a trial. And I think he rather enjoyed the trial except for paying the lawyers. It was, sort of, theater for him.

REHM

11:53:33
Erica Heller, her new biography of her father and it's as much autobiography as it is biography, it's titled "Yossarian Slept Here" and you're listening to the Diane Rehm show. And here's a caller on -- from Miami, Fla. Good morning, Ray.

RAY

11:53:59
Oh, good morning. I enjoy your show, I'm an addict...

REHM

11:54:03
Thank you.

RAY

11:54:03
...as far as "The Diane Rehm Show" is concerned. I was born 1925 in Coney Island. Born and raised until age 13 when we came down to Miami Beach. I came down with my folks. And, of course, like many others "Catch 22" was just a kick for me, having been in the service. I wrote a note to Joseph Heller, I don't know how I got his address. Most likely I write in care of the publisher. And I was astounded and pleased to receive a reply, handwritten note from him. And -- while the show has been on, I'm -- I was hunting around to find that note and I wish I did.

RAY

11:54:50
But I was so gratified by the fact that, not only was there a response but -- by a very popular author but the fact that it was handwritten. It was very touching...

REHM

11:55:05
Was that typical Tracy?

DAUGHERTY

11:55:07
I think so. And Erica can also speak to this, I'm sure. But as she said earlier, no one enjoyed his success more than Joseph Heller. And in fact, some people he was being quite unseemly in celebrating how successful he was. But I think the good side of that was that he was quite attentive to fans and to people who would come talk to him. I mean, late in life, he would be a little cranky with autograph seekers and so on when they disturbed him in public. But I think he valued readers and paid good attention to them.

REHM

11:55:36
One last question. In 1997, a letter in the London Times suggested there were striking similarities between "Catch 22" and a book published a few years earlier. What about that, Tracy?

DAUGHERTY

11:55:53
There was late, in Heller's life, this charge of plagiarism that another World War II book had similar incidents and characters. Most people looking at the book say that the -- whatever is similar between them is similar to most war books. It's just -- there's only a limited number of experiences that you can kind of talk about. And the charges vanished and, in fact, only increased "Catch 22's" popularity.

REHM

11:56:17
And Erica, one last question for you. You have said, you had never read "Catch 22," is that still the case?

HELLER

11:56:29
I'm working on it. I'm up to page 87...

DAUGHERTY

11:56:34
Hurry up.

HELLER

11:56:34
...which is as far -- what's the rush? It's farther than I've ever gotten. And I...

REHM

11:56:41
Is there what...

HELLER

11:56:42
...I plan to finish.

REHM

11:56:43
What is the resistance?

HELLER

11:56:45
What's the catch?

REHM

11:56:45
Yeah. What's the resistance on your part?

HELLER

11:56:50
The resistance is, I think that once I've read it, it's over. And it's sort of a secret surprise still waiting for me.

REHM

11:57:00
Oh, how lovely.

HELLER

11:57:00
And I've read everything else of his. So once that's done, he's done. So it's sort of a way to hold onto this a little bit longer, I think.

REHM

11:57:11
Erica Heller, her new book about Joseph Heller, her father, is titled "Yossarian Slept Here." And Tracy Daugherty, his new biography is titled "Just One Catch." Thank you both so much.

HELLER

11:57:30
Thank you.

REHM

11:57:32
And thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm
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