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Closing Time

Closing Time

3.8 5
by Joseph Heller

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Thirty-three years and over ten million copies later...the classic story continues.

Yossarian returns -- older, if not wiser -- to face a new foe.

An instant classic when published in 1961, Joseph Heller's Catch-22 still ranks among the funniest -- and most serious -- novels ever written about war. Now


Thirty-three years and over ten million copies later...the classic story continues.

Yossarian returns -- older, if not wiser -- to face a new foe.

An instant classic when published in 1961, Joseph Heller's Catch-22 still ranks among the funniest -- and most serious -- novels ever written about war. Now Heller has dared to write the sequel to his 10-million copy bestseller, using many of Catch-22's characters to deftly satirize the realities and the myths of America in the half century since they fought World War II.

In Closing Time, a comic masterpiece in its own right, Heller spears the inflated balloons of our national consciousness -- the absurdity of our politics, the decline of society and our great cities, the greed and hypocrisy of our business and culture -- with the same ferocious humor that he used against the conventional view of warfare. Back again are characters familiar from Catch-22, including Yossarian and Milo Minderbinder, the chaplain, and little Sammy Singer, as they come to the end of their lives and the end of the century -- all linked, this time, in uneasy peace and old age...fighting not the Germans, but The End.

Outrageously funny and totally serious, and as brilliant and successful as Catch-22 itself, Closing Time is a fun-house mirror that captures, at once grotesquely and accurately, the truth about ourselves.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Worked on for many years and long anticipated (and perhaps dreaded) by admirers of the incomparable original, Heller's ``sequel'' shares with his great WWII saga a surreal sense of the absurd and of the fatuity of most human institutions. But it is hard to avoid a sense of keen disappointment, nonetheless. The satirizing of American contemporary life has been done so frequently-and often successfully-since the 1961 Catch-22, which helped make so much of that satirizing possible, that Heller is in effect competing with himself, and failing. Here again are John Yossarian, Milo Minderbinder, Sammy Singer, Chaplain Albert Tappman, and the giant Lew. Newcomers include Washington finagler G. Noodles Cook and the mysterious and ubiquitous know-it-all Jerry Gaffney. The wartime buddies are old men now, worried about their health, their sex lives and their children, but they find 1990s civilian life as corruptly absurd as the old Air Force days. There are flashbacks to the war, some of which recall the power of Heller's original inspiration; there are nostalgic passages about Coney Island, long Jewish dialogues that could have been penned by a whacked-out Neil Simon, bravura passages (notably, a magnificent wedding reception held at New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal) and hare-brained Pentagon meetings to discuss the new Shhhh super-quiet warplane. There are patches of vaudeville, dreamscapes, far too much sophomoric doodling, and longueurs when Heller seems simply to be filling pages. In the end, despite flashes of the old wit and fire, this is a tired, dispirited and dispiriting novel. 200,000 first printing; first serial to Playboy. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Just like the original Catch-22, this sequel opens with Yossarian in a hospital bed, flirting with the nurses. Now in his seventies, Yossarian is depressed by his perfect health: things can only get worse. He lives alone in a Manhattan apartment not far from most of his old war buddies, including Milo Minderbinder, a defense contractor straight out of Dr. Strangelove. Yossarian and company mourn the decline of New York City and American culture in general and look back longingly to the golden age of prewar Coney Island. The symbolic center of the book is a surreal wedding extravaganza held at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and hosted by Minderbinder, who recruits highly paid actors to portray derelicts and prostitutes. This work attempts the same sort of giddy black humor that made its predecessor a classic, but the underlying mood is somber, almost elegiac. A profoundly disturbing novel, if not quite up to the standard of Catch-22; recommended for all fiction collections.
—Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles
John Mort
A sequel to "Catch-22"? Not possible, not desirable, and bound to fail. That said, "Closing Time" remains a brilliant book--broadly, about the end of culture, the end of the U.S. as a wonderful place for ordinary working stiffs, and death itself. Like the original novel, it opens with Yossarian in a hospital; there's nothing wrong with him except that he's old and no longer enjoys life. Someone is tapping his phone, and somehow that's connected with Milo Minderbinder and Chaplain Tappman. Milo, a defense contractor, is trying to sell the Pentagon a silent bomber that will do anything they want it to--of course it will, since the bomber will never be made or even drawn. Meanwhile, the chaplain becomes a military secret because he has begun to pass heavy water, and if the process can be patented it's worth millions. The president, very nice and incredibly stupid, also appears; he loves video games and inadvertently plunges the world into nuclear war. This plot line is loosely tied to a vast underground industrial complex that resulted when George C. Tilyou, a "Coney Island entrepreneur," became the first person in history to take his wealth with him, somehow sinking it, piece by piece, beneath the city. Maybe his empire has become part of secret, military goings-on, and maybe it's hell, and maybe they are the same. Can you oppose the very end of the earth? Heller's characters, at the end themselves, sort of do, but one really should read this novel as an expression toward the end of a grand career, a summing up. Heller is savage as ever, and--particularly in his brutal portrait of the decline of New York City--mournful.
From the Publisher
Robert Pinsky, The Washington Post Manic, knockdown verbal comedy.

Christopher Buckley, The New Yorker A summing up by one of the last of the great writers of the Second World War generation;...we can celebrate Catch-22's anniversary by welcoming Yossarian, Sammy, Milo, Lew, Wintergreen, and Chaplain Tappman even as we take leave of them.

The New York Times Contains a richness of tone and of human feeling...Powerful and disturbing.

The Philadelphia Inquirer Score one for Joseph Heller...Closing Time is Heller's best novel since Good as Gold.

Robert Pinsky The Washington Post A lively, brilliant and influential writer's look back at the 20th-century American culture he has seen.

Carlin Romano The Philadelphia Inquirer Score one for Joseph Heller...Closing Time is Heller's best novel since Good as Gold.

Christopher Buckley The New Yorker A summing up by one of the last of the great writers of the Second World War generation...we can celebrate Catch-22's anniversary by welcoming Yossarian, Sammy, Milo, Lew, Wintergreen, and Chaplain Tappman even as we take leave of them.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Publication date:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


When people our age speak of the war it is not of Vietnam but of the one that broke out more than half a century ago and swept in almost all the world. It was raging more than two years before we even got into it. More than twenty million Russians, they say, had perished by the time we invaded at Normandy. The tide had already been turned at Stalingrad before we set foot on the Continent, and the Battle of Britain had already been won. Yet a million Americans were casualties of battle before it was over -- three hundred thousand of us were killed in combat. Some twenty-three hundred alone died at Pearl Harbor on that single day of infamy almost half a century back -- more than twenty-five hundred others were wounded -- a greater number of military casualties on just that single day than the total in all but the longest, bloodiest engagements in the Pacific, more than on D day in France.

No wonder we finally went in.

Thank God for the atom bomb, I rejoiced with the rest of the civilized Western world, almost half a century ago, when I read the banner newspaper headlines and learned it had exploded. By then I was already back and out, unharmed and, as an ex-GI, much better off than before. I could go to college. I did go and even taught college for two years in Pennsylvania, then returned to New York and in a while found work as an advertising copywriter in the promotion department of Time magazine.

In only twenty years from now, certainly not longer, newspapers across the country will be printing photographs of their oldest local living veterans of that war who are taking part in the sparse parades on thepatriotic holidays. The parades are sparse already. I never marched. I don't think my father did either. Way, way back, when I was still a kid, crazy Henry Markowitz, an old janitor of my father's generation in the apartment house across the street, would, on Armistice Day and Memorial Day, dig out and don his antique World War I army uniform, even down to the ragged leggings of the earlier Great War, and all that day strut on the sidewalk back and forth from the Norton's Point trolley tracks on Railroad Avenue to the candy store and soda fountain at the corner of Surf Avenue, which was nearer the ocean. Showing off, old Henry Markowitz -- like my father back then, old Henry Markowitz probably was not much past forty -- would bark commands out till hoarse to the tired women trudging home on thick legs to their small apartments carrying brown bags from the grocery or butcher, who paid him no mind. His two embarrassed daughters ignored him too, little girls, the younger my own age, the other a year or so older. He was shell-shocked, some said, but I do not think that was true. I do not think we even knew what shell-shocked meant.

There were no elevators then in our brick apartment houses, which were three and four stories high, and for the aging and the elderly, climbing steps, going home, could be hell. In the cellars you'd find coal, delivered by truck and spilled noisily by gravity down a metal chute; you'd find a furnace and boiler, and also a janitor, who might live in the building or not and whom, in intimidation more than honor, we always spoke of respectfully by his surname with the title "Mister," because he kept watch for the landlord, of whom almost all of us then, as some of us now, were always at least a little bit in fear. Just one easy mile away was the celebrated Coney Island amusement area with its gaudy lightbulbs in the hundreds of thousands and the games and rides and food stands. Luna Park was a big and famous attraction then, and so was the Steeplechase ("Steeplechase -- the Funny Place") Park of a Mr. George C. Tilyou, who had passed away long before and of whom no one knew much. Bold on every front of Steeplechase was the unforgettable trademark, a striking, garish picture in cartoon form of the grotesque, pink, flat, grinning face of a subtly idiotic man, practically on fire with a satanic hilarity and showing, incredibly, in one artless plane, a mouth sometimes almost a city block wide and an impossible and startling number of immense teeth. The attendants wore red jackets and green jockey caps and many smelled of whiskey. Tilyon had lived on Sorf Avenue in his own private house, a substantial wooden structure with a walkway to the stoop from a short flight of stone steps that descended right to the margin of the sidewalk and appeared to be sinking. By the time I was old enough to walk past on my way to the public library, subway station, or Saturday movie matinee, his family name, which had been set in concrete on the vertical face of the lowest step, was already sloping out of kilter and submerged more than halfway into the ground. In my own neighborhood, the installation of oil burners, with the excavations into the pavement for pipes and fuel tanks, was unfailingly a neighborhood event, a sign of progress.

In those twenty more years we will all look pretty bad in the newspaper pictures and television clips, kind of strange, like people in a different world, ancient and doddering, balding, seeming perhaps a little bit idiotic, shrunken, with toothless smiles in collapsed, wrinkled cheeks. People I know are already dying and others I've known are already dead. We don't look that beautiful now. We wear glasses and are growing hard of hearing, we sometimes talk too much, repeat ourselves, things grow on us, even the most minor bruises take longer to heal and leave telltale traces.

And soon after that there will be no more of us left.

Only records and mementos for others, and the images they chance to evoke. Someday one of the children -- I adopted them legally, with their consent, of course -- or one of my grown grand-children may happen upon my gunner's wings or Air Medal, my shoulder patch of sergeant's stripes, or that boyish snapshot of me -- little Sammy Singer, the best speller of his age in Coney Island and always near the top of his grade in arithmetic, elementary algebra, and plane geometry -- in my fleecy winter flight jacket and my parachute harness, taken overseas close to fifty years back on the island of Pianosa off the western shore of Italy. We are sitting with smiles for the camera near a plane in early daylight on a low stack of unfused thousand-pound bombs, waiting for the signal to start up for another mission, with our bombardier for that day, a captain, I remember, looking on at us from the background. He was a rambunctious and impulsive Armenian, often a little bit frightening, unable to learn how to navigate in the accelerated course thrown at him unexpectedly in operational training at the air base in Columbia, South Carolina, where a group of us had been brought together as a temporary crew to train for combat and fly a plane overseas into a theater of war. The pilot was a sober Texan named Appleby, who was very methodical and very good, God bless him, and the two were very quickly not getting along. My feelings lay with Yossarian, who was humorous and quick, a bit wild but, like me, a big-city boy, who would rather die than be killed, he said only half jokingly one time near the end, and had made up his mind to live forever, or at least die trying. I could identify with that. From him I learned to say no. When they offered me another stripe as a promotion and another cluster to my Air Medal to fly ten more missions, I turned them down and they sent me home. I kept all the way out of his disagreements with Appleby, because I was timid, short, an enlisted man, and a Jew. It was my nature then always to make sure of my ground with new people before expressing myself, although in principle at least, if not always with the confidence I longed for, I thought myself the equal of all the others, the officers too, even of that big, outspoken Armenian bombardier who kept joking crazily that he was really an As

Meet the Author

Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn in 1923. In 1961, he published Catch-22, which became a bestseller and, in 1970, a film. He went on to write such novels as Good as Gold, God Knows, Picture This, Closing Time, and Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man. Heller died in 1999.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
May 1, 1923
Date of Death:
December 12, 1999
Place of Birth:
Brooklyn, New York
Place of Death:
East Hampton, New York
New York University, B.A. in English, Phi Beta Kappa, 1948<br> Columbia University, M.A., 1949

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Closing Time: The Sequel to Catch-22 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
AnakinFanatic More than 1 year ago
Joseph Heller does it again with the sequel to his all-time favorite Catch -22. Heller is able to place comedy with the seriousness of war and its effects in his books. He takes a serious subject and is able to make it comedic while still being able to point out the seriousness of whatever it is that he is trying to stress. This book obviously takes place after Catch-22 and shows how war can still affect vetrans.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved Catch-22. Since reading it I've come to regard Heller as a brilliant writer which is what tempted me to Closing Time. However it isn't as good as the first, they never are. The characters are dull and doesn't grab your interest like in Catch-22. I found some of the jokes unoriginal. But of course when Closing Time is forced to be compared to Catch-22 it is a expected... A quote from Heller 'When I read something saying I've not done anything as good as Catch-22 I'm tempted to reply, 'Who has?'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Joseph Heller is a fantastic and innovative author. His books are complex but difficult to put down. Closing Time is no exception. It is a difficult book to absorb but by the end you understand its hidden messages. You sometimes need to pause in order to fully grasp what is happening in the story but if you know Heller, you'll know his ways. I recommend it highly to anyone looking for a challenge. Although it is not Catch-22, you will be addicted to it as if it were its predecessor. Enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Catch-22 was the best book that I have ever read. After reading critics' reviews, I wasn't sure that I wanted to read the sequel. I bought the book, and was really surprised. It was funnier and yet more depressing. Heller writes the book as Yossarian is preparing for his imminent death. As I read the book, Heller himself died, which adds a certain element to the book because he places his own name in the text. He also introduces a character that one can really relate to named Lew, which is well worth reading the book to hear his narrative of WWII in Dresden. I did like the original better, but it was nice to know what happened to Yo-Yo, Milo, and the Chaplain.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago