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January 19, 1975 - Image 5

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1975-01-19

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I Sunday, January 19, 1975

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Page Five

Sunday, January 19, 1975 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Page Five

_ PROF

LE

Joseph

eI er's two novels in

two decades haven't spoiled

him

By TONY SCHWARTZ
HERE'S THIS GUY sitting
over breakfast, saying some
very funny and ingenuous things
in a voice garbled by a mouth-
ful of scrambled eggs and a
heavy Brooklyn accent. He is
wearing, among other things,
an old grey turtleneck, a red
flannel shirt and a brown striped
sportscoat. He is 52 years old
but with his trim body, vital
eyes and bushy silver-flecked
hair, he looks younger.
This is Joseph Heller, best,
known as the brilliant novelist
whose Catch-22 has sold over
eight million copies worldwide,
since it was published 13 years
ago. Today, however, he's just
a very nice guy you're having
breakfast with, the sort you
can't help but like immediately.
And that's good to know aboutj
the man who wrote a novel
which was itself so likeable and
so easy to identify with. Against
the backdrop of Vietnam, Catch-
22 was ,a hilarious, brilliant -,nd
powerful indictment of the in-
sanity of war. Yossarian, the
protagonist, was a sane, intel-
ligent, moral figure in a situa-
tion where such concepts seem-
ed unknown. Today Catcn-22
has become a part of aur Jan-
guage, adapted to any number
f illogical and inexplicable
ironies.
What makes Joseph Helier so
ikeable is his utter lack of
pretension. On the one hand,
he'll tell you quite frankly that1
he loves being in the limelight
and that the major reason he
came to Ann Arbor to speak at
the underclass Hopwood award
ceremony is because John Ald-
ridge of the English Denart-
ment here asked him to. Heller
felt grateful- to Aldridge (who
he'd never met) for the glow-
ing cover-story review Aldridgel
rote of Something Happenedl
n a recent Saturday Review/
orld. On the other hand, and!
ust as ingenuously, Heller tells
ou that he felt no pressilre to
uickly produce a second block-
uster following Catch-22. Un-1
ike many successful first novel-
sts, who work furiously toI
rove their initial effort va sn'tI
fluke, Heller took 13 years to
r i t e Something Happened.E
oyalties from Catch-22 gave
im the leisure to write at his
wn pace.

man. Among the dislikes he probably the best experience of1
made known while here were my life, even the combat. I hadI
teaching, the critics, and v-ilk- no sense that any injustice was
ing about his work. Jos ph He- being done, and my officers1
ler, by contrast, likes all three, were not like Yossarian's. May-1
and more. be I would have protested if itc
Take Ann Arbor, for instance. had been Vietnam or Korea, but
"I often make quick impres- WW II wasn't and I loved it.")i
sions. When I arrived at my After the war, Heller entered
hotel here (Campus Inn) it was college, had his first brush with 1
about 6 p.m. I saw some faculty writing and enjoyed, as he puts
people having cocktails at the it, .the "sweet experience of
bar and a lot of people in the getting published in national1
lobby. I figured this was a live- magazines." As a sophomore, 1
ly place. Some college towns he took a creative writing|
':\ss i:;;5ig sy::is 4::uiiij;jqL Y-}:i4ii .:"gagi'rsisi }i # ii":4: i inilma Y "4bill is i ",:::i +"i i >
Heller on writing: "After I see the
whole book in terms of a con figu-
ration, with many details, then I
begin to break it down into parts
and I write it on a word to word,
or a sentence to sentence basis. I'dk
usually shoot for one typewritten
page in a day. That's very pa ins-
taking. What I really mean is that
it's a pain in the ass." -.
you walk in and nobody's at the course and the stories he pro-
bar." Heller felt even better duced appeared the following1
about Ann Arbor after encoun- year in such publications as
tering the largest audience of Esquire and Atlantic. In typi-I
his career for the Hopwood cally anomolous fashion, Hellerl
reading at Rackham. It was graduated and promptly gave t
also, he says, one of the most up writing for the next four1
receptive. years. His explanation is sim-1
"I enjoy traveling almost in- ple: "I'd learned enough in
variably," he explains between other courses to know that my
bites of an uncharacteristically stories were largely imitation."
large breakfast. "I want some After getting his M.A. in
sign that there is large audience English, Heller taught for a I
which wants to hear me. If couple of years at Penn State
you're out to sell books, you ("a stultifying place") and then
don't come to campuses, you go returned to New York to work
to bookstores to sign auto- in a small advertising agency.i
graphs. And I guess another "Within three or four weeks,"i
reason I came to Ann Arbor is he remembers, "I had my am-;
that it has an extremely good bition back. The idea for Catch-
reputation among New York 22 came to me in one day, just
City high school students. A the way the idea for Something'
lot of 'em come out here and Happened came in an after-1
never return." .inoon." Helier spent the nextI
IN THE COURSE of his two eight years on Catch-22 and fin-
days here, Heller made clear ished it in 1961. A short time
thathe is an a'thor who defies later he got the idea for Some-
easy categorization. His career, thing Happened and 13 years
for starters, took an odd route. later-last January-he handed
h ..-.,in the written manuscript. The
only breaks in between the reg-
ular writing during that time
were a couple of years off to
write the play "We Bombed in
New Haven," an occasional
short-term rewrite of a screen-1
play and, during the last four
years, a post teaching fiction-1
writing two days a week at City
College.
Despite his caterpillar - like1
writing speed, Heller denies it
comes from an obsessive me-
ticulousness. "There are many
neurotically painstaking writers
who write very short novels,"
he explains. "Both my books
are longer than I thought they
would be when I planned them

but no longer than I wanted jELLER SAYS that he en-
them to be when they were joyed the challenge of teach-
finished." At the same time, ing - the other major work
Heller believes the time he activity of his last four years-
takes gives his work an added until this semester. He tells his
dimension. "I work slowly and students that he thinks it's a
patiently. There is almost noth- mistake to attempt to write a
ing careless in either book. I1 novel before the age of 25. "You
want something a little more -spend two years writing and by
than just narrative content on the time you finish, your stand-
any page I write. Each one is ards have changed so much
rich with meaning, with what's that what you thought was hot
happening. I try to do more stuff at first won't be such hot
than just move the plot line stuff at the end. I see it happen
along. It might be just a pun, over and over." Another thing
a transition, a trick of language Heller liked about teaching is
-but it's there." that it helped organize his time
while he was writing. "I know
NOT ONE TO make an idle this sounds awful, but it's like
claim, Heller poses a chal- i walking my dog and jogging >
lenge. "Open the book at ran- (which he does three miles a
dom," he suggests, "and I'll day). Both give me a chance
show you what I mean." For to think and a place I have to
the next five minutes, he ani- be at a certain time."
matedly explains the meaning Now that Something Happen-
of a paragraph transition, the ed is out, Heller has more in-
intended ironical effect and the terest in reading reviews, doing
larger meaning he had in mind. !interviews and giving readings,
Perhaps"it is this self-conscious- than in teaching. And his new
ness which prompted one re- book has received a far differ-
viewer to call Beller a "writ-:'bo a eevdafrdfe->
er's writer." Does Belier him- ent response than Catch-22 did
elf shre that vie I when it first came out. The
-tIreviews back then were mostly
think of myself in any compli-ba;frSmtigHped
mentary way that anyonewouldb; r Somethin Haene
like to describe me. I haven't, they have been generally ex-
calld tat ad cellent., John Aldridge, in the
heard myself called that and } review Heller liked so much,
I'm nt sure I des eit,uts called it "the most important
I wolntojct"B~ass novel to appear in this country
"Look," he s a y s, laughing in at least a decade." The ook
heartily, "I like praise." is a narrative meditation, done The power of Something Hap-
Doubtless that's so, but given in the preettneb aened (and of Catch-22) is
Doubles tht'sso, ut ive inthepresent tense by a manI that the situation seems so real,
Heller's output, it must make named Bob Slocum. Slocum is a t soainescapsble Ad
him one of the all time mas- a successful executive in a the charm of Joseph Belier is
ters at delayed gratification. In large company-drawn from but Itha ar a ise disus
the first years of Something not based on Time Inc. says Sion, he could leave the car,
Happened he worked on it for Heller-who has much going for take a few steps away, and then
a couple of hours every morn- him and is nonetheless very 'n- turn back good-naturedly to say
ing. "There were many morn- happy. Heller claims to be kgthis:
ings when I couldn't write. I shocked but not displeased by "Listen. If you don't like the
would sleep late. If I didn't get the degree to which readers answers I've given youmake
out of the house by 10 or l1:30, identify so emotionally with p ynwr I wogv dn'u make
I wouldn't get to my studio till Slocum. Nor is he upset thatu

Daily Photo by PAULINE LUBEN

JS

p

11 and by then I'd have phone many find the book so unre-
calls to make. By the after- lievedly depressing. "I tell them
noon, I wouldn't feel like writ- to keep in mind that this is a'
ing." Things changed shortly novel and Slocum is a fictitious
after "We Bombed in New character. It's not an accusa-
Haven" closed on Broadway. ; tion. I know many people in
Heller then sat down to finish his position who are content
Something Happened. Although with what they are. He has an
he had scores of typewritten added dimension-an ability or
pages, he numbered a yellow a curse to see himself without
page '1,' spread hundreds of any delusions. He has an al-
notecards in front of him, and most obsessive need to examine
began rewriting the book in himself."
longhand. Heller makes no apologies for
"Usually I'd work two to three the bleakness of his character's
hours in the morning. The after- situation, but neither does he
noons would be a lot of think- pretend to understand it fully.
ing about what I'd written, and "Writing is a cold, cruel, calcu-
in the evenings I might write lating business. You're glad the
more or think about the next boy is dying-or that Slocum is
section. After I see the whole trapped-because it gives you
book in terms of a confiwira- the effect you want. To me it's
tion, with many details, then I sheer music.
begin to break it down into "People want to know how
parts and I write it on a word come Slocum is the way he is
to word, or a sentence to sen- and I can't tell them. There is
tence basis. I'd usually shoot no explanation I know of. It's a
for one typewritten page in a combination of circumstances-
day. That's very painstaking. some of which I try to suggest
What I really mean is that it's -but if there is a way out I
a pain in the ass." don't know it."
TONIGHT AT 8:00 P.M.
"THE MOST MARVELOUS PARTY IN TOWN!"
T. E. KALEM, Time Mag.
PATRICIA MORISON
; *. in
A NEW MUSICAL COMEDY REVUE
Words and Music by
INOEL[CO WARD
JANUARY 17-19
Power Center Box Office-763-3333

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irst five people to correctly com-
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1

Ton1 Schivart: has all but
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"ERVIEW DATES: Jan. 27 and 28
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UNIVERSITY THEATRE SHOWCASE
INSPECTR(
r7 HOUND
A PLAY BY TOM STOPPARD
+J/ J.ANUlARY 19-211975 .
ARENA THEATRE -
TICKET INFORMATION
CALL:764-0450

yl' d

I

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-or m

-Am

Daily Photo by PAULINE LUBENS

I

IJT IS A COMMON cliche about'
about writers that their books
are generally more interestiig
than they are. Take, for in-
stance, Arthur Miller, who spent,
time on campus last year. De-
spite his wisdom and the awe
in which his plays are ; irly
held, Miller was a cold, inac-
cessible and not very likeable

He was born in Brooklyn and
raised in the residential sec-
tion of Conev Island. At 19, he
enlisted in the Air Force and
like Yossarian, became a B-52
bombardier. (With characteris-
tic self-effacement, however,
Helier makes it clear that in
other ways, he was no Yossa- ,
rian. "I was young when I
went into the war and it was

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--- I.1

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