When a chapter of Catch-22 was first published as a novel-in-progress in 1955 Joseph Heller got several letters of encouragement from editors. Then, when the finished book was published in 1961, Orville Prescott of the New York Times described it as "a dazzling performance that will outrage nearly as many readers as it delights." Half the reviews were positive, but the other half were negative, and some were downright scathing. New York Times Book Review contributor Richard G. Stern said the novel "gasps for want of craft and sensibility," "is repetitious and monotonous," "is an emotional hodgepodge" and certainly no novel, and, finally, that it "fails " The structure was problematic for some. Acclaimed author Norman Mailer said in Esquire: "One could take out a hundred pages anywhere from middle ... and not even the author could be certain they were gone." New Yorker critic Whitney Balhett said it "doesn't even seem to have been written; instead, it gives the impression of having been shouted onto paper," and that "what remains is a debris of sour jokes." Further, the critic said Heller "wallows in his own laughter and finally drowns in it."
The last laugh was on these reviewers, however, because although the book did not win any prizes or appear on any bestseller lists, it soon became an underground hit and sold extremely well in paperback. More and more...
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