28 November 2011

There are some odd synergies. The two met years after their wars, onstage at a literary festival in 1968, and became great friends and eventually neighbors. Heller’s war was up in the air, as a bombardier in the nose cone of a B-25. Vonnegut’s was at ground level, as an infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge, and ultimately beneath ground level, in the basement of Schlachthof-Fünf during the firebombing.

Both men were profoundly, and with respect to their war novels, specifically influenced by the French author Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Both their novels were numerically titled — Heller had to retitle his original “Catch-18” when Leon Uris brought out his “Mila 18.”

In a detail that struck me as, well, weird, Vonnegut’s breakthrough moment while he was trying to get a handle on how to write his novel came during a visit to a war buddy — in Hellertown, Pa. More ironic is that both World War II novels ended up being Vietnam novels.

--Christopher Buckley on Vonnegut and Heller in the New York Times Book Review this week.

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