Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cannery Row - John Steinbeck

Every once in awhile, I force myself to read a classic that I should have read years ago. I remembered reading East of Eden in high school and loving it, so I thought I'd pick up another Steinbeck gem. From the first page, I was hooked by Steinbeck's writing. It seems so simple, but he captures everything so perfectly. Cannery Row takes place on a small street Monterey, California, and focuses on the people who live out their lives there - most notably, Lee Chong, the Asian grocer, Mack - the leader of a group of bums, Dora - the moral madam of the local whorehouse, and Doc - a man who collects and studies marine life. The books centers around Mack's desire to do something nice for Doc, and deciding ultimately to throw him a party. But, mostly, the book is a series of vignettes about life on Cannery Row, and an exploration of the complexities of individuals despite seemingly simple outward appearances. I found each of the characters so compelling. I wanted Steinbeck to devote an entire book to each one so I could learn more about their lives and their pasts and dreams. I think if I had read this for a class back in college, I probably would have highlighted almost all of it - it is filled with beautiful images and perfect language - and it made me want to take a trip down to Monterey to listen to the gulls and take in the salty sea air. Simply fantastic.

1 comment:

Marji said...

Wonderful review. When I first got to Stanford, I read through many of John Steinbeck's stories -- as an escape from statistics, I think. I'd go to the library, and read them just as stories, not even thinking about the beautiful writing. (I was unaware.)

Your friend Daniel Mason mentiioned Steinbeck's writing, and when I read the opening paragraphs to his second book, it seemed to be very much reminiscent of the opening lines in Grapes of Wrath. (I may be confusing books, so don't quote me.) I am usually not aware of beautiful writing or writing styles. I often read for plot -- that's the level of my thinking. But with your encouraging review, I may reread Steinbeck for his writing.