Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Cannery Row - John Steinbeck

What a good day when this wonderful short novel passed my way.  John Steinbeck – Grapes of Wrath and all that?  On my mental list of authors that must be looked into, but somehow never are – until Cannery Row.

Monterey, California – the poor end of town next to the fish canning factories.  Here live, and struggle for survival, some wonderful colourful characters.  Doc, the star of the show, has a biological establishment.   He collects, and supplies to laboratories, animals and sea creatures and lives in his company building, all mixed in with the stock.  Then there’s Mack, leader and usually spokesman for a group of four or five down and outs who are living rent free in a building owned by Mr Lee, Chinese grocer and entrepreneur.  How he acquired the building, and how Max and his pals come to live in it forms the start of the tale of the inhabitants of Cannery Row, sad and funny by turns.  In fact, many of the short chapters in this book are that way – sad and funny by turns.  Some of them, in a few short sentences, brought tears to my eyes.  And some are so wonderfully clever and funny, they need to be read out loud.  What a great writing style Steinbeck uses for this book – his skill is in the way he can say so much when seeming to say so little.  It was a joy to meet all the inhabitants - from the brothel ‘madam’, with her dyed red hair; Mack and his friends who drink a lot but bother no-one; Doc, a soft heart for everyone, even when he loses his temper;  Mr Lee the shop keeper who always has an eye for the main chance but so often looses out to Mack, who can spin a tale so  tight he is the only one who knows where it’s going.  There are more colourful characters to be found here  and not too much of a story – this is more a tale of the way things are, rather than of how they are going to be.  If you have never read any Steinbeck – do, please, seek this one out.  I loved it, and you may feel the same as me – only one way to find out!

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