When delving into the works of renowned authors, such as John Steinbeck, one wonders whether they are up to the task of evaluating such prestigiousness. Yet, each of us in entitled to their own opinions about these overly reviewed classical literature.
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck reminds me of a situation comedy with intriguing but gritty characters interacting with one another and making a mess of their lives. It’s a combination of Seinfeld (a lot of complaining where nothing much happens) and Cheers (lots of drinking and everybody knows everybody else’s business).
Taking place during the Great Depression in Monterey, California in the neighborhood where sardines are canned, instead of a plot, Steinbeck interweaves various vignettes featuring the colorful members of the community who make up Cannery Row. I suppose if you had to pick a main character it would have to be Doc, the village intellectual who collects wild life, especially creatures living near the ocean, to sell to research laboratories across the country. All the mayhem centers around plans by Mack and the boys to have a party in Doc’s honor. Needless to say, the disastrous results mirror the expression “no good deed goes unpunished”, with Doc paying for the damages. Yet it is impossible for him to stay mad at the well meaning idiots who, no matter how hard they try, always seem to make a mess of their endeavors. The reader gets to chuckle at their fateful attempts to do the right thing. Laughter ensues when the boys catch and barter 1000 frogs who escape before payment is collected or when everyone in town, including Dora and “her girls”, presents Doc numerous gifts on his pretend birthday.
Steinbeck portrays those who are normally considered the dregs of society with compassion and understanding. Instead of being faceless forgetables, we get to know them as human beings with full hearts, yearning souls, and unrequited dreams fighting for a dignified existence in a humbling world.
I am looking forward to reading the sequel, Sweet Thursday, which explores the town about ten years later when Doc returns from serving in World War II. Published in 1954, Steinbeck felt compelled to once again write about his hometown and it makes one wonder how much is fiction and how much is based upon real events. It doesn’t really matter, in either case the reader can enjoy the tale. Five stars