I loved that Steinbeck set this novel among the 'low-life' inhabitants of the Monterey area, and that he infused it with such humanity and hope. Despite the miserable surroundings the characters find themselves in, their lives are essentially happy. They aren't caught up in consumerism and the desire for status, and they are able to appreciate some things about life that we can miss, such as how valuable simple acts of kindness can be. Perhaps because they have found themselves at the bottom rung of society, they live without judgement and simply take people for who they are. That's a message that we all need to be reminded of every now and again, that beauty and kindness can be found anywhere.
The sense of place in Cannery Row is fantastic. Steinbeck's writing seemed more poetic in this novel, particularly when he was describing the quality of light over the row, or the sunrise over the sea. It made the novel extremely visual, and by the end I felt as if I knew Cannery Row myself, as I could imagine it all so clearly.
My only complaint with the novel is that, in common with the other Steinbeck novels I have read, there was too much focus on the male characters. The character of Doc was fascinating, and so was Mack, but I wanted to read more about Dora and the women who worked for her. There's a great little section where Dora schedules the girls to deliver soup and company to families during a flu outbreak between clients, but it's never expanded on. I wanted to know their thoughts and motivations, and experience their lives too. Similarly, it's hinted that Lee Chong has a wife, daughters and daughters-in-law, but they are entirely absent from the novel.
Still, Cannery Row is a beautiful novel. The writing and the characters combined to give me such a feeling of hope, that people anywhere can live their lives in a decent and caring way. I'm looking forward to getting to the sequel, Sweet Thursday.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1945
Edition Read: Penguin Modern Classics, 2000
Score: 4.5 out of 5
The Classics Club: Book 33/72
My full list of titles and reviews can be found here.
I haven't read a Steinbeck yet. This one sounds good but I wonder why women are almost absent from the stories. You would think they would add so much balance and round the story off.ReplyDelete
There were more women in East of Eden, so maybe it's better to start with that one.Delete
I really loved Cannery Row. I think we can see the wide talent of Steinbeck, like you said, as his style here is just a little bit different. Monterey is about an hour away from me, not far at all, and every time I go there - though it's a bit touristy and so un-Cannery Row like - it's still awesome walking there.ReplyDelete
I've always liked Doc's character. I have a friend who is studying marine biology and he always buys a used copy of Cannery Row from bookstores everywhere when he travels!
I liked his style in this book, although I also liked his more straight-forward style in East of Eden. It''s a shame Monterey isn't more like it is in the book.Delete
I love that your friend is buying up copies because he is studying marine biology. I liked Doc, but thought that he had the most sadness about him.
That's encouraging that you liked it. I'm reading East of Eden right now and am about 20% through. I read your review of it, which has encouraged me to continue. So far all the characters are rather depressing. I have all the evils of human nature and now I just have to wait for the good to show up.ReplyDelete
I perhaps should have tried Cannery Row first. It sounds like a book I may enjoy.
I really like depressing novels, so that wouldn't have put me off East of Eden at all. This one is much more hopeful, so if East of Eden doesn't work for you, this one might be a better fit.Delete
I love Steinbeck, but don't have pleasant memories of this one. It's been well over a decade, so perhaps I should give it another try...ReplyDelete
At first I thought I didn't like this one, until about half way through, and then I liked it. It was only after finishing that I realised I loved it - it's a bit of a grower.Delete
I hadn't heard of this before after reading your thoughts though I like the sound of it and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I have only read Of Mice and Men and that was many years ago when I was in High School. I really should try more of his books.ReplyDelete
I really liked Cannery Row too. It wasn't particularly happy, but compelling and certainly entertaining. I'm familiar with the Cannery Row as it is today. And I agree with you about his male characters. I would have loved to know more about Dora.ReplyDelete
Now, Tortilla Flat? Hated that book.
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I've lost count of the number of times I've re-read this short novel since first coming across it nearly a half-century ago. I have laughed out loud, ached in sympathy, and felt my heart swell with agape love with every reading.ReplyDelete
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