Click Here To Purchase Yossarian Slept Here

Author: Erica Heller

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 9781439197684

A “Catch-22” is one of literature’s most famous contradictions. So, it turns out, was its author.

Joseph Heller has become one of the canonized icons in modern literature, a hero for his creation of the anti-hero Yossarian, the irreverent and defiant bombardier at the center of the remarkable 1961 military opus, Catch-22. But Heller, it turns out, could be as disagreeable and, well, loathsome as any of the addle-brained antagonists who fill the pages of that serio-comic treatise that changed modern literature

Heller, the author = brilliant. Heller, the husband/father? Not so much.

The full extent of Heller’s personal complexity has now been laid bare by his daughter, Erica, in her thought-provoking and well-crafted memoir, Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller was Dad, The Apthorp was Home, and Life was a Catch-22.

To be sure, Joseph Heller could be a wonderful father, loving husband, and faithful friend. But he could also be a thoughtless prick and a philandering, heartless tormentor. His humor was as searing as his artistic vision, his depth of emotion as great as his thirst for vengeance. It’s hard to imagine that the same loving father who enthusiastically presided joyously over hot dog-scarfing outings at Coney Island with his wife and children could be the same man who orchestrated a brutal legal vivisection of his wife and children during a high-profile divorce proceeding.

Erica Heller’s triumph is her ability to reveal the sad and salacious details of a life without writing a salacious narrative, to present the tawdry and tangled dissolution of a lifelong marriage without the leering delight of the voyeur. The loving daughter is no scolding tattle-tale, but neither is she the naïve father-worshiper. What makes her narrative so compelling is that the reader inevitably shares her emotional turmoil as she relates the events of her life, the closely-observed details of her father’s literary ascent, and her parent’s marital descent. Her clear-eyed and candid prose prevents the reader from lapsing into any easy condemnations.

Yoassarian Slept Here is as much a Baedeker to post-war literary New York City as it is a probing memoir of family life. Erica Heller, a copywriter and novelist, reveals a perhaps-inherited penchant for literary perceptiveness in her description of the many places and people that figured large in the life of her bourgeoning world. Consider, for example, this passing observation about Scrafft’s, a New York staple for diners of a certain social strata:

A glamorous, gilded soda fountain with a counter, Schrafft’s was a tearoom and bakery, a place where women could dine alone in those days [the 1950s] and partake of an alcoholic beverage and not feel awkward. It was the dowager’s Starbucks. The patrons were ladies at liberty, wearing fur stoles with the heads of various pricey weasels with glassy eyes and pointy ears.”

The memoir is filled with lots of similarly shrewd observations. Yet at the end of the book, the reader is not a whole lot closer to decoding the mystery of Catch-22’s author, which is probably as it should be. Too many celebrity tell-alls strive for some forced, faux resolution. But there’s no facile summing up of the artist’s life here, no bumper-sticker insights. Readers will emerge much more knowledgeable about Joseph Heller and the volatile circumstances of his self-created world. But circumstances don’t explain people. You can know some people well, but then again, you can never really know them – a sort of Catch-22 that this interesting book makes clear.


Click Here To Purchase Yossarian Slept Here