Sunday, 31 January 2010

Cannery Row

Doc was collecting marine animals in the Great Tide Pool on the tip of the Peninsula. It is a fabulous place: when the tide is in, a wave-churned basin, creamy with foam whipped by the combers that roll in from the whistling buoy on the reef.
John Steinbeck's exhilarating passion for his native Monterey in California is evident throughout Cannery Row. Doc the scientist goes about his daily business collecting starfish, octopi and abalone from the tide pools for the Western Biological Laboratory. Lee Chong keeps a watchful eye on his store and a closer eye on Mack and the boys who live in the Palace Flophouse. Dora and her girls at the Bear Flag brothel work hard to accommodate the men coming in from the fishing boats and every evening at dusk the old Chinaman walks through the lot and across the beach not to return until dawn.

Steinbeck's fabulous descriptions of the marine life that inhabit the 'brown and blue and China red' rock pools of Monterey are echoed by the stories of those who inhabit Cannery Row. Humane, moving and laugh-out-loud funny, Cannery Row is one of the finest American novels.

The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second. John Steinbeck, Cannery Row


Merenia said...

How I adore this book. I read it as a teenager, and then again when on a pilgrimage visitng Monterey and Cannery Row... Will you read the sequel "Tortilla Flat"? It is just as stunning, full of heart, mixed with some churning violence, but with a prevailing tone of optimism and kindness and fatalism. Thanks for your lovely review and for reminding me how brilliant Cannery Row is.

LizF said...

Until I began reading John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley about his journey around America with his dog,for Cornflower's readalong, the only other one of his books that I had read was 'Of Mice and Men'.
Admittedly I have read that several times by virtue of the fact that not only was it one of the books I studied for O-Level (a long time ago) but also three of my four children have also 'done' it for GCSE! (The 16 year old was miffed as she wanted to 'do' To Kill a Mockingbird instead!)

I have a battered copy of The Grapes of Wrath that I always intend to read but haven't got round to but now , due to your blog,I really really want to read Cannery Row. So much for my year of reading from home!

Trevor said...

I read Cannery Row a number of years ago and loved it. When I started it, I didn't expect much, but it was so charming. I remember reading the last twenty pages or so in a busy hallway and not having any idea what was going on around me.

Vintage Reading said...

Merenia, I read this in my twenties, too. Coming to it again many years later I wondered if it would still have the same magic, but I needn't have worried, it did! Is Tortilla Flat the sequel? I've just ordered Sweet Thursday thinking that was the sequel. Maybe I'm wrong, I'm not familiar with Steinbeck's other novels. Someday I'll get to America on a literary pilgrimage.

LizF, yes, I'm reading Travels with Charley for Cornflower, too. I think it's good but I prefer his fiction. Of Mice and Men seems a standard text for GCSE along with The Catcher in the Rye! I think you'd like Cannery Row.

Trevor, I too, became totally absorbed in this. I'm surprised it doesn't have more of a following. Perhaps the sheer pleasure of this novel is a well-kept secret!

StuckInABook said...

I bought this on the recommendation of a friend a while ago, but somehow shelved it... might have to unearth it again, although the copy was so grubby that I'm not sure I can make myself read it!

Merenia said...

Hi there, you're right the sequel is Sweet Thursday. Tortilla Flat was written earlier, but has great similarities in setting and characters - based in Monterey area and about itinerant and migrant workers scraping a living and leading a pretty tough existence with their own unique morality and loyalties. So very very similar that I categorised it as a sequel, but it actually isn't, and has different characters.

Vintage Reading said...

Simon, you must read it. A grubby Steinbeck is better than no Steinbeck!

Merenia, I want to read Tortilla Flat and also his Sea of Cortez journal. I love the way he captures the dialect of local characters.

Nan said...

I was looking at this today, and almost took it off the shelf, but picked something else instead. I own a few Steinbeck books and it is really time I read them again. It's been forty years!