I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this one. It’s set in the south during the Great Depression, which isn’t a setting that really excites me, although I think I’m coming around on that. Each chapter reads like its own story, and I sometimes have a hard time keeping interest in fiction that doesn’t have a strong central plot. Despite these concerns, I ended up loving this novel. I actually started reading the first couple of pages absentmindedly while figuring out what to read next, and I just couldn’t stop. I can’t really put my finger on what it was that grabbed me, but I just wanted to learn more about this place and these characters.
It’s a collection of chronological vignettes following a group of people living in Cannery Row, a street in Monterey, California, that gets its name from the sardine canneries that line the street. Each chapter is a scene from the life of one of the residents, and with each one your picture of this world becomes clearer and clearer. You get to see each of these characters from multiple angles – not only are you in their heads but you’re seeing them from everyone else’s eyes as well, and it’s done so well. I read a lot of novels with multiple viewpoints, but something about how Steinbeck brings you into each character is so natural.
Of Mice and Men was exploring desperate loneliness, while this novel explores companionship. It’s much more comedic than soul-crushing, surprisingly funny at times, and I found the characters even more interesting. Each novel had such a distinct tone, and if you’re wondering how to write compelling and well-rounded characters, look no further than this. Just fantastic.
I never thought I’d be a big Steinbeck fan, to be honest, but I’m two for two now. I should probably start looking at The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden soon.