Tilting at Mortality, Narrative Strategies in Joseph Heller’s Fiction

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While most studies of Joseph Heller focus on his two primary works, Catch-22 and Something Happened, Tilting at Mortality considers Heller’s entire career, including his latest work, Closing Time. David Craig pursues two complementary tracks: first, he explores the evolution of Heller’s essential subject, human mortality; and second, he delineates Heller’s artistic development as a novelist. Mortality – in particular the death of children or, alternatively, of wounded innocents – provides Heller with his core story. Each novel emerges as another gesture of comic defiance, each constituting a strident, insistent, angry, sometimes eloquent protest against mortality. Craig’s approach – yoking subject matter and narrative strategies – distinguishes this book from others about Heller’s work, which essentially thematize. By contrast, Craig uses Heller’s abiding concern with mortality to open previously unexplored areas of his fiction. He examines unpublished writings, especially short stories written in the 1940s, for the way in which they anticipate the novels; looks at aspects of Heller’s novels that have never been studied; links more systematically Heller’s narrative methods and strategies to his authorial intentions; and traces the development of such characteristic concerns as writers and artists, their artistic artifacts, as well as Heller’s own authorial self-consciousness. Craig’s book scrutinizes Heller’s entire career by examining each novel on its own terms and not by measuring it against Catch-22.

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