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October 06, 1974 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1974-10-06

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Page Four


Sunday, October 6, 1974



At last, Heller's successor to Catch-22

SOMETHING HAPPENED second novel, Something Hap-
by Joseph Heller. New York: pened.
Alfred A. Knopf, 569 pp., $10. The approach of Something,
Happened is very different '
By CHUCK MALAND from Catch-22. Instead of de-
ONE OF THE ubiquitous scribing a vast array of char-'
sights on college campuses acters omnisciently, pointing
in the late sixties was a small out every foible and flaw, as
blue paperback with the pic- in the earlier novel, Heller tells
ture of a World War II plane what happened through the
and the head of some air force eyes of Bob Slocum, a middlei
flyer on the cover. When I aged business executive.
bought my copy in 1969, Catch- Dominant in Catch-22 was a'
22 was in its twenty-seventh stinging attack on institutions;
paperback printing and head- instead of telling us that war'
ing for more. is hell, Heller ridiculed, exag-,
Perhaps better than any other gerated, hyperbolized, lam-'
novel of the decade, Catch-22 pooned and satirized until the
combined an anti-war protest total effect of his black humorI
with a sense that the underpin- convinced the reader that so-
nings of postwar American val- ciety as Heller envisioned it
ues had become unpinned, that was insane. Inecontrast, Some-
we were living in an age of thing Happened is Bob S-
'crackpot realism.' Lacking cum's 'State of My Sanity' ad-
any clear plot, the novel jump- dress, describing his present
ed from point to point, swiping state of mind, his work, his
irreverently at American types family, his lover, and his re-
from the subsidized alfalfa far- actions to them all. While
mer to the advertising genius, Catch-22 focused onthe nature
the Ivy Leaguer to the military of institutions, Something Hap-
aristocrat. After more than a pened pictures the thoughts of
decade, its author, Joseph Hel- a single person caught in insti-
ler, has presented us with his tutions.

BOB SLOCUM himself is a[
successful executive in a
New York business. ("The
company exists to sell. That's
the reason we were hired, and
that's the reason we're paid.")
He has plenty of money, is
adept enough at his job to be
periodically promoted, and lives
in a comfortable home with an
acre of land in Connecticut. He
is still married to his first wife
and has three children.
On the surface, Bob Slocum is
a model of the successful and
prosperous upper - middle -
class American citizen. But his
psyche is damaged, his soul
sick. From one point of view,
Something Happened is an ex-
tended illustration of the cul-
tural critic Michael Novak's
assertion that "the laissez-faire
attitudes of Americans in the
matters of the human spirit
represents one of the greatest
mass betrayals of responsibility
by any civilization in human
Like Bob, each person in his
family has problems.Because
his wife feels she makes no dif-
ference to anyone anymore
("and is probably right," adds

mor and a fear of both public paisley and madras when others tains a memory of Virginia as
speaking and Forgione, his have already moved to worsted pure and undefiled as Daisy's
hairy-chested gym teacher who and hopsack, he limps from a memory was to Jay Gatsby.
makes him climb a rope and malformed hip, his manners A S ALREADY suggested, the
chides him for lack of "compe- are bad, he failed to go to col- ALREADY seted he
titive spirit." Though he loves lege, he has no wit. In short, he controlling methaphor of
his son, Bob shares many of his has no place in the organiz- Something Happened is fear.
son's fears and remains unable ation, while Bob does: he is Heller has created in Bob Slo-
to help him. In fact, as time 'being groomed' for Kagle's cum a man moving through
passes, his son, rapidly ap- job because Arthur Baron, Ka- middle age who has found no
proaching the traumas of ado- gle's superior, likes Bob's wit). lasting satisfactions in life, who
lescence, no longer confides in And Bob-though he admits that has no personal code of values
his father as he once did. he doesn't need the money or aside from office norms, and
Fwant the responsibility; that he who faces only the bleak future
Derek, is retarded, never to, suffers anxiety, suppresses hys- of pulled teeth, blank days at
grow mentrl they are told teria, has bad feet and a de- the office, problems at home,
grow mentally, tiey rEmbr' teriorating jawbone; that he and the fear of approaching
beyond the age five. Embar-- death. Though man is poten-
rassed to have such a son, Bob worries about riots, violence, dth. T poben
desires to avoid him at all costs and teenage sex - still wants tially a creative being,Bob is
! so locked into a situation in
-out of sight, out of mind. His ;the job.
whole family situation, despite THOUGH HIS FAMILY life life, so devoid of the honesty to
occasional periods of truce, is and work both lead Bob to face his problems and the cu
depressing. Even though he is fear and axiety, he finds at age to challenge them, that he
unhappy and detests four-day least temporary sustenance in as a stay against fear
family holidays, Bob doesn't sex, particularly in fantasy.
want a divorce because he's I His wife is still good in bed Just as Catch-22 captured a


i .X

;Slocum), she has begun to
_drink during the day and to
flirt (poorly) with men at eve-
ning parties. Their teenage
t daghte, "alonely and dis-
Ac RAVEL MICH. UNION 7 -214gruntled person," is nonlonger
RA ELMIH UNI 6 24Bob's favorite. He only hopes
she avoids pregnancy and
drugs; she only wishes he
would get= her a car and not
embarrass her before her
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ture of institutions
pened pictures t
Single person traps

, Something HaF

a- ]


thoughts of

ped in institution


never gone through the process (and becomes especially accom-
before and does not want to modating after she begins:
bother. drinking during the day) but
nevertheless, Bob looks else-:
THE PREVAILING atmos- where for sexual satisfaction.
phere at Bob's work is one We thus learn of his successionE
of fear, both of those superiors of whores, lovers, and mis-
to whom he is responsible and tresses, including Penny, his1
of underlings who are bright, steady for a decade, and a 26-:
ambitious, accommodating and year-old from Ann Arbor, who
sure to fire Bob if they rise pops into Bob's mind when-
above him in the organization, ever he sees blue denims (and
Never before have I seen the who jilted him after a few
organization's goal of teamwork; weeks for younger men).
(c o ri f o r m i t y) and am- Even these memories are
bition (pleasing your super- weak and insufficient, however,
iors) exposed so vividly, when compared to those of Vir-
For instance, Bob's boss, An- ginia, the office girl who teased
dy Kagle, doesn't fit and is him when he was a 17-year-old
about to lose his position. office boy for Western Union.
Though he has worked his way He stole fleeting kisses fromj
up from the bottom and has her on the stairway, hid his ex-
ability and experience, he lacks citement with an office folder,s
the important qualities: his last and never went further. He
name is bad (Kagle?), he wears regrets it constantly and re-'

part of the 60's, Something
Happened offers a vision of our
situation today. By showing us
how Bob's job and his working
atmosphere define his values
for him, Heller suggests the
power that organizations have
on the formation of our values
and attitudes. In a country
whose huge organizational and
institutional structure discour-
ages the sense of personal and
social responsibility that leads
people to create a humane val-
ue system, it is no wonder that
people are afraid, that they dis-
trust one another, that they areG
unable to communicate their
fears to others. Only by facing
problems squarely and dealing
with them creatively can men
go beyond fear.
Lest I turn Heller into a rad-
ical optimist or gestalt thera-
pist, however, let me add that
he does not end his book in rosy
cheer; Bob doesn't face his:
problems but suppresses them
by becoming more efficient at
work, by choosing security and
order over the dual threat and
creative challenge posed by
freedom. Though Bob at times!
has good intentions, he also tells
us "there are thing going on
inside me that I cannot con-j
trol and do not admire" and
attributes his shortcomings toI
"some dark and frightening
area of my soul with which I
am not in communication." Hel-j
ler's vision tells us both that

our institutions foster fear and
insecurity and that men like
Bob Slocum (and maybe all
men?) are unable to transform
them because of dark and chilly
hollows in their souls.
one of other contemporary
American novelists. With Philip
Roth, Heller shares an under-
standing of the great emphasis
on sex in American life to the
point where lovely women in
slinky velvet dresses sell us
booze and anti-perspirant and
virile men in cowboy hats or
scuba outfits peddle cigarettes.
Heller's Mrs. Yerger, Bob's
Western Union suervisor, re-
minds one of the big nurse in
Ken Kesev's One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest, but Heller lacks
in his novel a liberating force
like McMurphy, who can see
through institutional s h a m
enough to challenge its power
and to propose an alternative.
In his picture of the dark re-
cesses of the human soul, un-
controllable by human will, Hel-

ler seems close to Joyce Carol
Oates, whose characters exhibit
these passions not by suppress-
ing them, like Bob Slocum, but
by brief blurries of violence.
Heller has in the end offered
a challenge and a good second
novel, a worthy successor to
Catch-22, a book that demon-
strated his versatility as a writ-
er. Though I personally prefer
the first novel's irreverent and
penetrating black humor, Some-
thing Happened has strong mer-
its as a study of a single con-
sciousness responding to the in-
stitutions that have locked it in,
curtailed its freedom. One
might spend a profitable day
(perhancs when the football team
is out of town) following the
tormenting route of Bob S-
cum, from the beginning to the
point where he notices that
"everyone seems to be pleased
with the way I've taken com-
Chnck Maland is a graduate
studcnt in American Studies.

U.N. General Assembly: A bastion for bores

SEY by William F. Buckley
Jr. New York: G.P. Putnam's
Sons, 260 pages, $7.95.
IN SEPTEMBER, 1973, William1
F. Buckley Jr. was appoint-
ed to the United States Dele-
gation to the United Nations
General Assembly. After a three
month's journey in the diplo-
matic jungle, Buckley returns
to inform us that the natives
are listless.
B u c k 1 e y ' s United Nations
Journal: A Delegate's Odyssey
attempts to explain this im-
probable appointment (In a1
column in his conservative Na-
tional Review, Buckley once re-
ferred to the U.N. as a place
where "nations meet in order
handily to exchange insults,
bribes, intimidations, and cyni-
cism") and to provide a forum
for his views denied him in New

THE REALIST Buckley admits
to a lapse into "Walter
Mittyism" in accepting a seat
in the General Assembly and,
in its Human Rights Committee.
As public delegate (or layman-
diplomat), he envisions himself:
addressing the Assembly, "hold-
ing the delegates spellbound as
I read to them from Solzhenit-
syn, as I described the latest
accounts of concentration camps
in Mainland China, as I pleaded
the case of the ballet dancer
Panov. I would cajole, wheedle,
parry, thrust, mesmerize, dis-
may, seduce, intimidate."
It takes just a slight exposure
to U.N. rhetoric, however, to
convince Buckley that the Gen-
eral Assembly is no place for
serious or seductive speeches.,
This comes in the form of a
typically overlong, empty dis-
course by the Saudi Arabian rep-
resentative, Jamil Baroody.
Baroody, a U.N. figure since

1948, has done his best, Buckley
convinces us, to fortify the'
U.N.'s image as the "densestI
collection of oratorical bores'
in the history of the world."
U.S. media for not printing,I
in entirety, his ramblina, hours-!
long interviews, and offers this1
as proof that U.S. citizens are7
denied freedom of information.
He makes no mention of con-I
ditions in his own country, nor
do the vast majority of dele-
gates. They rail against racism
in South Africa, Portugal's Af-
rican colonies and Israel as if'
their countries had cornered the
market on human freedoms. Re-;
minding us that only 20 of the
U.N.'s 135 member states (since
Buckley's tenure, three more
states have been admitted), are
ruled by parliamentary repre-
sentation, Buckley himself takes
aim at this double standard, and
lets both barrels go at the So-
viet Union's domination of
Eastern Europe and repression
of domestic dissidents.

Yet Bucklev's anti-Soviet re-
marks cannot be made in the
General Assembly. Delegate
Buckley is a prisoner of detente
-in a time of warming rela-
tions, one does not remind an
adversary of the thinas most
reprehensible about hiro-but
aithor Buckley is not. United
Nations Journal gives Buckley
the chance to comment on As-
sembly debate had he been
allowed to and had he been
awake at the time.

re the most compelling argu-
ment in debates is whether
to table discussion for a year
or indefinitely.
WUCKLEY'S KEEN eye, how-
Aever, does not miss those
,are moments of U.N. activity.
Thus, we are treated to the
snne, in the General Assembly,
of the Chilean delegate being
xrerbally and phvsically attacked
by the Cuban delegate, whose
bodyguards are poised to draw
their mins and start shooting.



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A N IMPORTANT istruction Nor do we miss the heated ex-
to new delegates is not to change, in English, between the
fall asleen at the desk. "You Chinese and Soviet delegates,
can have the earpiece on up- in which Mr. Chiao informs Mr.
side down," Bcklev confides, Malik that "he has no class."
"and nobody is the wiser." Buckley's Journal is a snright-
Buckley, however, is just as lv account of a personally te-
renetitive of the Soviet Union's! dious, disappointing experience.
crimes as the member dele- It is told with the usual style
gates are of South Africa's, and wit of Buckley-whom the
Portugal's and Israel's. . Wall Street Journal calls the
Though perhaps not an objec- "ranier on the Right"-and
tive commentary, the Journal with a casualness that is too
is insightful and instructive. Itj often missing in books on public
describes the strength of the policy. The author of Up from
African bloc (which, a Portu- Liberalism and Cruising Speed,
gese delegate warns, could turn among other books, has done
the General Assembly into the the impossible: he has written
Organization for African Unity) , a book about the United Na-
and the weakness of the U.S. tions which actually seems too
delegation, which numbly ab- short.
sorbs rhetorical assaults on
every subject. It also portrays;
how problems manage not to be Charles Storch is a graduate
resolved at the United Nations,' student in Journalism.
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