Cannery Row is by one of my favourite (maybe top 10?) authors, John Steinbeck. Dude knows how to write about disenfranchised, impoverished people and migrant workers of the Great Depression. While his work shines most for me in Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row is a top contender.
In Cannery Row, Steinbeck settles in to slowly ease his way through well-constructed prose.
“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 inhabitant are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gambler 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 holymen’ and he would have meant the same thing.”
I loved the collection of different characters in this book, their quirks and mannerisms. Steinbeck is incredible at giving a glimpse into people’s motivations. He doesn’t just humanize characters; he endears the reader to them. Like Doc, who collects specimens (animals) for his Western Biological Laboratory, and also attracts the most down-and-out among Cannery Row. Or Hazel, who constantly asks questions to avoid saying anything himself. Or Frankie, who is sweet, shy, and reminiscent of Lennie in Of Mice and Men; his arc, though short, is heart-breaking.
There is no singular plot to Cannery Row. It’s a series of short stories that swiftly sweeps between characters. If you’re a fan of Steinbeck’s, or want prose + character development, this is the quick-read for you.
Image via Fonts in Use.