Sweet Thursday. John Steinbeck. 1954. Penguin. 272 pages.
When war came to Monterey and to Cannery Row everybody fought it more or less, in one way or another. When hostilities ceased everyone had his wounds.
Sweet Thursday is the follow-up to Cannery Row. Some characters have carried over to this new novel--some changed by time just a little, others more so, and a few not even a little bit--Doc, Mack, Hazel, and Eddie. (I don't remember if Whitey #1 and Whitey #2 were in Cannery Row or not. They're not really stand-out characters in my mind. So you probably won't see them pop up again in the review anyway.) But readers are also introduced to some new characters, some wonderfully amusing new characters: Suzy, Joseph and Mary (the man who bought Lee Chong's grocery), Fauna (Dora's older sister, the new owner of the Bear Flag), and Joe Elegant (part-time writer, part-time cook; his book was The Pi Root of Oedipus).
There is so much to love about Sweet Thursday. The characters. The humor. The story. The observations of life. The descriptions. The style itself. (Steinbeck has a way with words!)
Some days are born ugly. From the very first light they are no damn good whatever the weather, and everybody knows it. No one knows what causes this, but on such a day people resist getting out of bed and set their heels against the day. When they are finally forced out by hunger or job they find that the day is just as lousy as they knew it would be.and
On such a day it is impossible to make a good cup of coffee, shoe strings break, cups leap from the shelf by themselves and shatter on the floor, children ordinarily honest tell lies, and children ordinarily good unscrew the tap handles of the gas range and lose the screws and have to be spanked. This is the day the cat chooses to have kittens and housebroken dogs wet on the parlor rug. (81)
The communications system on Cannery Row is mysterious to the point of magic and rapid to the speed of light. (167)
It's always hard to start to concentrate. The mind darts like a chicken, trying to escape thinking even though thinking is the most rewarding function of man. (40)and
Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. (19)and
Change may be announced by a small ache, so that you think you're catching cold. Or you may feel a disgust for something you loved yesterday. It may even take the form of a hunger that peanuts will not satisfy. Isn't overeating said to be one of the strongest symptoms of discontent? And isn't discontent the lever of change? (18)So what is Sweet Thursday about? It's about a man grown discontented (Doc) and how his friends (Mack, Hazel, Fauna, etc) go about trying to cheer him up. Doc--after the war--is having a midlife crisis of sorts, he's trying to find new purpose in his life. But that isn't always easy. Can he get by with a little help from his friends?
Last spring I read my first Steinbeck novel, Tortilla Flat. It was a novel I just fell in love with. It had me laughing and smiling. It had me wanting more. It was "my favorite and best" Steinbeck until now. I just love, love, loved Sweet Thursday. More than Tortilla Flat. More than Cannery Row. More than Travels with Charley.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews