Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Something Happened, Heller’s second novel, was published thirteen years after Catch-22 (1961), his most famous novel and the one on which his reputation most securely rests. In Catch-22, the military and war are the objects of Heller’s satire. The worldview in Something Happened is not so different from that in the earlier novel, but the shift from the military setting to a domestic and corporate world somehow seems to remove the playfulness and comedy from the vision. Perhaps the reason that the situation in Something Happened produces less comic satire than is found in Catch-22 is that military service can never be permanent in the same way that family life and a chosen career can.

In Good as Gold (1979), Heller turns his satire to the political world, and some of the comic flair evident in Catch-22 returns. His fourth novel, God Knows (1984), looks at the religious world with the same basic vision that pervades the previous work. Heller has also written a play, We Bombed in New Haven (1967). Something Happened remains the darkest and bleakest of his books, as well as the longest and most labored.