An uproarious and frank memoir of illness and recovery, No Laughing Matter is a story of friendship and recuperation from the author of the classic Catch-22.
It all began one typical day in the life of Joe Heller. He was jogging four miles at a clip these days, working on his novel God Knows, coping with the complications of an unpleasant divorce, and pigging out once or twice a week on Chinese food with cronies like Mel Brooks, Mario Puzo, and his buddy of more than twenty years, Speed Vogel. He was feeling perfectly fine that day—but within twenty-four hours he would be in intensive care at Manhattan's Mount Sinai Hospital. He would remain hospitalized for nearly six months and leave in a wheelchair.
Joseph Heller had Guillain-Barré syndrome, a debilitating, sometimes fatal condition that can leave its victims paralyzed from head to toe. The clan gathered immediately. Speed—sometime artist, sometime businessman, sometime herring taster, and now a coauthor—moved into Joe's apartment as messenger, servant, and shaman. Mel Brooks, arch-hypochondriac of the Western world, knew as much about Heller's condition as the doctors. Mario Puzo, author of the preeminent gangster novel of our time, proved to be the most reluctant man ever to be dragged along on a hospital visit. These and lots of others rallied around the sickbed in a show of loyalty and friendship that not only built a wild and spirited camaraderie but helped bring Joe Heller, writer and buddy extraordinaire, through his greatest crisis.
This book is an inspiring, hilarious memoir of a calamitous illness and the rocky road to recuperation—as only the author of Catch-22 and the friend who helped him back to health could tell it. No Laughing Matter is as wacky, terrifying, and greathearted as any fiction Joseph Heller ever wrote.
In alternating chapters, Heller and Vogel recount Heller's bout with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a paralyzing affliction that struck him in 1981, from which he has now recovered. The two voices blend magnificentlythe authors have been friends for 25 yearsand together they engagingly draw readers into Heller's hospital room and into both their lives. The physical and emotional ramifications of Heller's condition, for himself and his circle of friends , are honestly detailed; and Heller, in his first nonfiction work, movingly and unsentimentally describes the experiences of paralysis, illness and rehabilitation. Stories of disease are unlikely to be as lively and fun as thisthere is even a love interest as Heller falls in love with his nurseand for anyone interested in Heller and his work, the book is a treasure trove of biographical information. Repetition slows the bookthe derivation of the name Kinky Friedman (he makes a cameo appearance in Good as Gold is offered several times; Joseph Stein is more than once identified as the author of Fiddler on the Roofand the authors seem to name-drop when they describe the social scene at Mt. Sinai, but as one friend of Heller's remarked to Vogel after a visit to the hospital: "It was not like visiting any other patient. It was sheer entertainment.'' First serial to the New York Times Magazine.