Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review: Cannery Row

Every now and then I get a craving for some John Steinbeck.  There's something about his ability to instill a sense of time and place that draws me to his novels.  I know from past experiences with his work that I can expect interesting and engaging characters and an enjoyable read.  Cannery Row is no exception.

Set in Monterrey, the story follows a cast of characters that vary from prostitutes, to Lee Chong, a grocery store owner, Doc, a Marine biologist, and Mack, the leader of a group of moneyless, family-less, ambition-less men in search of food, drink and contentment.  

Though the story covers a variety of themes such as friendship, contentment, and prejudices, in many ways the story is simply about throwing a really great rollicking party. 

Mack and his band of buddies have been squatting near Cannery Row for quite some time, getting by with what little money they can scrape together from odd jobs, and such, wheeling and dealing with Lee Chong for steaks and pints of "Old Tennis Shoes" their choice brand of cheap Tennessee whiskey.  When they can, they like to help Doc, the local marine biologist and resident nice guy, collect various lab samples, which, being the nice guy that Doc is, pays them quite handsomely for.

One day Mack and the boys get it in their heads to throw Doc one hell of a birthday party.   However, in order to fund such an event, they'll need to acquire some sort of paying gig from none other than Doc himself, all while keeping the party a surprise. 

As simple as that may sound, that is pretty much the story in a nutshell.  A bunch of semi-drunk, totally broke, yet effortlessly content guys planning a party for a genuinely nice guy.  I guess that might sound a bit popcorn-ish, but Cannery Row is a great story.  Steinbeck is most known for his darker, tragic novels, but Cannery Row certainly doesn't fall into that category at all. While Cannery Row is set in the same time frame as Steinbeck's most famous works such as The Grapes of Wrath, and Of Mice and Men this novel doesn't have the strong sense of tragedy that is in those novels.  I guess the best way to put it is that Cannery Row is like, Steinbeck-light.

It was nice to read a story about regular people who genuinely love life, and are content with what they have, and don't crave more.  The strength of this novel lies in the fact that Steinbeck presents some interesting concepts, but doesn't hit you over the head with them, and instead fits them nicely into the story in an organic way.

If you are looking to read some Steinbeck but are daunted by his "darker" works, then allow me to un-daunt you.  Cannery Row is a great read.  It features many of Steinbeck's signature traits, and skills, minus the tragedy...ok, a bit of tragedy, but of the comedic sort.  Plus, it is a story about a sweet party written by SteinbeckYou can't really go wrong here.  Lots of fun, some good laughs, and engaging characters make this a great read. 

Grade: B+

No comments: