Closing Time (Magill Book Reviews)
CLOSING TIME tells two groups of stories. In one, Yossarian, Sammy Singer, and Lew Rabinowitz, all World War II veterans, reflect upon the past, the war, old age, death, and the chaotic present. The other group satirizes America’s continued obsession with war, especially the technology of weapons, the smug indifference of the rich to those unlike themselves, and the decline of New York City.
Lew, slowly dying of Hodgkin’s disease, remembers how he flaunted his Jewishness in a German prisoner of war camp and survived the Allied bombing of Dresden. Sammy longs for some purpose in his life after the death of his wife. Yossarian works for Milo Minderbinder, the manipulative entrepreneur of CATCH-22, trying to sell the government a nonfunctioning, nonexistent bomber because he has little else to interest him until his younger girlfriend becomes pregnant.
The satire centered around Milo’s bomber also includes an incompetent new president of the United States, known by all as “Little Prick,” who would rather play with video games than lead the nation. The remainder of Heller’s comic abuse comes through the multimillion-dollar wedding of Milo’s bumbling son in the Port Authority Bus Terminal with well-bred actors replacing the usual drug addicts, prostitutes, runaway teenagers, and homeless who inhabit the facility.
Heller’s anger at the decline of his beloved New York, his characters’ nostalgia for the city’s glorious...
(The entire section is 351 words.)
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Closing Time (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Catch-22 (1961), Joseph Heller’s first novel, was a true publishing phenomenon—a serious work of fiction discovered by the reading public rather than the literary establishment. There is a myth that the novel was harshly attacked and misunderstood by all its reviewers; actually, the now-classic absurdist account of American airmen during World War II was appreciated in some publications, but not enough to help it sell well outside New York City until it was published in paperback. Released in softcover, Catch-22 soon found an increasingly enthusiastic public, particularly among young readers, who responded to its antiestablishment theme, especially as the war in Vietnam escalated in an insane way that seemed to mirror Heller’s black comedy.
Catch-22 ends as Yossarian, its protagonist, becomes fed up with his commanding officers, who continually raise the number of bombing missions he must fly. He sets out to escape the war and its pervasive absurdity by running from death, representing the individual’s hopeless yet admirable protest against the mindless forces conspiring to control his life. That gesture seems a perfectly apt way of ending Yossarian’s saga. Yet Heller has chosen to continue, in Closing Time, the account of Yossarian and some of his friends from the war. While Heller’s sixth novel is described by its publisher as a sequel to Catch-22, it has little in common with its predecessor. The...
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At the close of the Minderbender-Maxon wedding ceremony as the couple kiss, the "soulful, soaring strains of the "Redemption Through Love" theme of Wagner's Gotterdammerung float through the air, followed by the ethereal, painfully sweet voices of a children's chorus from Adrian Leverkuhn's Apocalypse, which is then interrupted by the "barbaric cacophonous ensemble of rollicking jubilation" of a male chorus. This odd musical combination essentially describes the technique of Closing Time. The novel is in part a paean to long-term, committed love — that ever-changing mixture of passion, tenderness, friendship, nurturing, and occasionally apathy. It is also a beautiful yet disturbing reminder of the fragility of life. And it is, in its cardboard government and military officials, Catch-22-style dialogue and illogical regulations, such as the Freedom of Information Act, which requires government agencies to release information to anyone who applies for it, except for information that the agencies do not want to release, an hilarious catharsis from anxiety over the horrors of life in the 1990s.
The point of view, tone, and structure reflect this combination. The narrative shifts between the evocative, somber, dignified internal monologues of Sammy Singer and Lew Rabinowitz and third person omniscient narration presenting social satire that focuses primarily upon Yossarian, Chaplain Tappman, and Milo Minderbender.
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Discussion of Closing Time almost inevitably begins, as is revealed in most of the reviews of the novel, by comparing it to its famed predecessor. Groups might enjoy noting which preoccupations sixty-eight-year-old Yossarian retains from the time when he was thirty-five. Conversely, they can note the ways Yossarian's character has changed. Discussion of which novel readers prefer and why can also be quite illuminating.
Heller's social satire presents many topics for discussion: Among them are the problems of the decay of inner cities, of homelessness, of increased materialism in American society, and of the threat of a nuclear holocaust. Heller's portrayals of secret agents, government weapons contractors, and even the President should evoke strong responses.
More personal issues to consider are Heller's attitudes towards marriage, parent-child relationships, and responses to retirement, aging, and medical care in the 1990s.
1. Is Closing Time truly a sequel to Catch-22, or is it, despite its use of some of the characters in Heller's first novel and references to key events, a book very different from its predecessor in its themes and effect upon the reader?
2. How has Yossarian changed in the thirty-three years since his escapades in Catch-22? Were you surprised at his being a consultant for M & M Enterprises & Associates?
3. How does Heller characterize the American...
(The entire section is 520 words.)
It's closing time for American civilization, according to Joseph Heller in Closing Time. America is plagued by moral squalor, best exemplified by the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal with its assortment of pickpockets, prostitutes, transvestites, and the homeless. There, the air reeks with "smoke and unwashed bodies and their waste . . ." There, rapes, stabbings, and drug overdoses are the norm. Indeed, the rape of a one-legged woman is just part of a daily routine.
All the while wealthy dilettantes, blind to the human misery surrounding them, attend their elitist ACACAMMA meetings and try to outdo each other in their planning of monstrously exorbitant social events. Heller's "assault on nouvelle society," as Thomas Edwards terms it in his review, culminates in the Minderbender/Maxon wedding, the "Wedding of the Close of the Century," held in the New York bus terminal, but with actors substituting for the homeless. Heller's social satire is at its sharpest in portraying the extravaganza with its thirty-five hundred guests, eight clerics, sixty bridesmaids, one hundred and twenty flower girls and ring bearers, forty-four-foot wedding cake, four thousand pounds of caviar, and the sites of the Temple of Dendur, the Blumenthal Patio, the Engelhard Court, and the Great Hall transported from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
As in Something Happened (1974), the American family in Closing Time is not faring very well. Divorce...
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In Chapter 27 of Closing Time, Yossarian goes with former detective sergeant Larry McBride down a staircase in the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal, to a metal closet with a false back and hidden door, through which they then journey to a subterranean realm influenced both by accounts of the classical Greek underworld and Dante's Inferno (1321). There they view a number of writers, including William Saroyan, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, James Joyce, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, and Sylvia Plath — an assortment of figures that reflect Heller's recommended reading list. Not only does Yossarian meet authors but also some of their characters, such as Thomas Mann's Gustav Aschenbach, from Mann's Death in Venice (1912; translated into English 1924), a book that influenced the elegiac tone of Heller's novel, and Schweik from Jaroslav Hasek's The Good Soldier Schweik (1920), a major source for Heller in Closing Time, as well as Catch-22, for exposing absurdities in the military. Heller refers several times in this novel to Kurt Vonnegut, who, like him, depicts recurring images of the horror of war.
This novel is notable for having not only literary precedents but also musical ones. The most significant are Wagner's Gotterdammerung as Heller compares the Yossarian/Melissa relationship to that between...
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Closing Time shares characteristics with each of Heller's previous five novels. Of course, its closest similarity is with Catch-22, with which it shares characters, such as Yossarian, Milo Minderbender, and Chaplain Tappmann; evokes episodes, such as Yossarian's hospitalization, Snowden's death, and Yossarian's sitting naked in a tree refusing to accept Milo's offer of chocolate-covered cotton; and recalls the circular, non-sequitur, absurdist dialogue of its predecessor and the surrealistic vision of "The Eternal City" chapter in its portrayal of the PABT and its sub-basements.
The monologues of Sammy Singer and Lew Rabinowitz are reminiscent of Heller's first major experiment with internal monologue in Something Happened; the cast of bumbling politicians, secret agents, and public relations officers reflects the antigovernment satire of Good as Gold (1979); the emphasis upon aging reminds readers of Heller's portrait of King David in God Knows (1984); and the depiction of capitalism as the major force in Western civilization relates to Picture This (1988).
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