Friday, August 19, 2011

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck is huge favorite of mine, so I was excited when I learned that he would be the focus of this round of the Classics Circuit Tour. My first experience with Steinbeck was The Grapes of Wrath at 15 years old. I wasn't too excited about it either because I was required to read that behemoth of a book over my summer break for my Honors English class. I was surprised to find that I actually loved it (and I wasn't a big reader back then). Since then, I've enjoyed several of his other works, and he has yet to let me down.

Cannery Row has been on my list to read for a very long time. I've been wanting to read it since I discovered that I have a bit of a family connection to that area and time period. My great-great uncle Knut Hovden was the owner of one of the largest canneries in Monterey which has since been turned into the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In honor of the book, Monterey has changed the name of that street to Cannery Row. A few years ago my family visited Monterey and spent time on Cannery Row as well as visited the tide pools and the aquarium. While reading Cannery Row, it was interesting to see how it was described by Steinbeck at an earlier period in time, knowing how much it has changed. 

After years of saying I was going to read it, I finally picked up my copy and read it on my train ride down to London last week. I read it in one day. Not surprising since it's short, but surprising in that I didn't want to put it down. Cannery Row doesn't have an overarching plot, but is more of a series of vignettes of the different characters in this town. Steinbeck characters are so well-drawn. Even the seemingly smallest of characters are given depth. Steinbeck's prose blows me away every time. The descriptions of the landscapes are so vivid and alive.

I love his focus on the community as a whole and their interactions with one another. The people in the town are an extremely diverse bunch. While the characters mean well, things don't always turn out as hoped for, but you can tell that they ultimately care about and look out for one another. Despite some of the awful things that happen in the book, there is a sense of optimism in the conclusion. Cannery Row is very different reading experience from Steinbeck's other novels, but equally as rewarding.