Cannery Row. John Steinbeck. 1945. Penguin. 208 pages.
Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, "whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches," by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said "Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men," and he would have meant the same thing.
I enjoyed this John Steinbeck novel. Steinbeck certainly has a way with words, details, and images. Even if what he is describing is more ugly than beautiful. He has a way of saying it so that it matters. So that you, the reader, care. It does help that this one has a good deal of humor. Not that humor is quite the way I'd put it. (Since early on, we see a suicide or two. But still. It's Steinbeck.)
What is Cannery Row about? It's about a surprise party gone wrong. And the men (and women) who come together to make everything right again in the end. Mack and a few of his friends want to do something nice for Doc, one of the town's favorite guys. They think the best way to say that they appreciate him is by throwing him a surprise party. But since they're always down on their luck (in other words low on cash, and not trustworthy enough to extend credit to) they're a bit stumped as to how to go about it. What plan will they come up with?
Lee Chong's grocery, while not a model of neatness, was a miracle of supply. It was small and crowded but within its single room a man could find everything he needed or wanted to live and to be happy--clothes, food, both fresh and canned, liquor, tobacco, fishing equipment, machinery, boats, cordage, caps, pork chops. You could buy at Lee Chong's a pair of slippers, a silk kimono, a quarter pint of whiskey and a cigar. You could work out combinations to fit almost any mood. The one commodity Lee Chong did not keep could be had across the lot at Dora's.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews