Picture This, Joseph Heller



A half-read book is a half-finished love affair, according to Robert Frobisher in the fragmented multinarrative masterpiece Cloud Atlas. And that’s true. But let’s explore the metaphor, shall we? There are many good reasons to break off a love affair. Your lover might be crazy, or boring, or endlessly terrible and annoying. Your lover might be needy, and demand all your time, and fill it up with pointless meandering rambling.

I didn’t finish this book. Surprise. I am not going to finish this book, nor will I ever read from this book again. I forced myself to go through 180 stupid pages before I decided that, like a terrible love affair, I was only sticking around because of the time I had already invested, not because I had any desire or enjoyment or respect for it. Because I didn’t. At all. I hated it. I hated this. Hated hated HATED this book.

I hated its stupid misleading cover quotes (“another new kind of novel: intelligent and written with grace,” they proclaim, when this book, with hardly any actual scenes or characters or plot or story arcs, is not what I would ever call a “novel”). I hated its smug attempts at cleverness. I hated its plotlessness and tiresome historical drivel. But most of all I hated how I won’t ever be able to read Catch-22 again, one of my very favourite books, without thinking that the brilliant hilarious genius who wrote this is also the irritating masturbatory asshole who wrote Picture This.

Do you even want a plot summary? I can’t give you one because of the there-is-no-plot thing, but basically it’s about Rembrandt painting a portrait called Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer. The joke is apparently that nobody knows what Homer looked like or if he was even real, and Rembrandt’s Aristotle looks like a Sephardic Jew, and nobody recognizes either of them except for from the title. I suppose it’s all supposed to be a comment on aesthetics or authenticity or identity, but Heller spends all his time (fap fap fap) talking about Athenian war history and Rembrandt’s money problems (fap fap fap fap) and how history is cyclical whether it’s in Ancient Greece or 17th century Amsterdam and world peace would be the end of human civilization (FAP FAP FAP FAP). I was worried for a while that I was just not understanding some elaborate joke, but now I don’t care. Even if this was some genius work, way over my head, amazingly layered and just too smart for me, I still think it was a pile of steaming shit that nobody should ever have to read.

The only thing that I found redeemable in the book (and I’m really, really reaching) was Heller’s characterization (if you can call it that, because there are no real characters in this book) of Socrates.  Socrates is revered as one of the founders of modern Western thought, but in the book he’s just this wang that everyone hates because he asks non-stop questions and never has any answers and just does weird shit and has no friends. It’s only Plato that makes him seem smart or like he was trying to teach anyone anything. So, to end this unrelentingly negative review, I will give you this clip of comedian Louis CK acting out Heller’s portrayal of Socrates, like an annoying child always asking “why.”


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