The second time this book has caught me by surprise. He's got a very... I wanna say "astute," but it's something else. He just keeps "gettin'" (like GOTCHA!) me. Steinbeck has a voice I can tune in to. It's weird, like how singing voices resonate whether I like the music or not, styles of writing... they either rattle your bones, or it's nothing. Just a story. Words completely randomly and inelegantly strung together. end rant. aaaand... :) here's the part...
"... "You know, Suzy, there ain't no way in the world to get in trouble by keeping your mouth shut. You look back at every mess you ever got in and you'll find your tongue started it."
"That's true," said Suzy. "But I can't seem to stop."
"You got to learn it like you learn anything elsejust practice. The next thing is opinions. Hell Suzy, we ain't got no opinions! We just say stuff we heard or seen in the movies. We're scared we'll miss something, like running for a bus. That's the second rule: lay off opinions because you ain't really got any."
"You got 'em numbered, huh?" said Suzy.
"I could write a book," said Fauna. "'If She Could, I Could.' Now take number three. There don't nobody listen, and it's so easy! You don't have to do nothing when you listen. If you do listen it's pretty interesting. If a guy says something that pricks up your interest, why, don't hide it from him, kind of try to wonder what he's thinking instead of how you're going to answer him back."
"You're sure putting the finger on me," Suzy said softly.
"I only got a little more, but it's the hardest of all, and the easiest."
"I lost track. Don't pretend to be something you ain't, and don't make like you know something you don't, or sooner or later you'll sure fall on your ass. And there's one more part to this one, whatever number it is: they ain't nobody was ever insulted by a question. S'pose Doc says something and you don't know what it means. Ask him! The nicest thing in the world you can do for anybody is let them help you.""
I don't know. That's just a piece. I just keep getting surprised by moments he hosts, and it's in good context! not just thrown in there!
If you like Monterey or simple times of... some time ago :) I like his style. It's simple, but lovely. I feel like I think it's boring subject matter, it's the minutiae of life, but it's strung together so nice and so thoughtfully it's like looking at a beautifully painted picture of an orange. I was in Monterey quite recently and even visited the Steinbeck house in Salinas, so I thought it would be a damn good time to read another Steinbeck. As per usual, it was a really good read and as per usual, I was right. But then again, it's always a good time to read Steinbeck!
Having said that, I do worry every time I read one of his books, because all the character's always die and it will always be sad. The amount of hyperbole in that previous sentence is nothing to the level of my forgetfulness when it comes to Steinbeck's solid sense of humor. For like Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday is actually a comedy.
That makes sense, since Sweet Thursday is a sequel to Cannery Row. Most all of the old characters are back and their aims are almost exactly the same. Poor old Doc is set upon once again by Mac and the boys in their attempts do something nice for their beloved friend. Of course, they have their own happiness in mind and their ways and means aren't conducive to welllaid plans, so yes, things fall apart. That's the whole point.
I could see someone docking the book for being a repeat and coasting on the coattails of a successful predecessor, but that someone is a douche. Shut up, sit back and enjoy the fact that a major novelist gave you more of a good thing! The War is over and life seems to go back to normal in Cannery Row. Mack and the boys return to their feisty drinking at the Palace Flophouse and Fauna and the girls recover their usual business at the Bear Flag. Companionship and good cheer, camaraderie and the right dose of picaresque reign over the marginalized neighborhood in Monterey, and the familiar pulse of tragicomedy takes hold of the comforted reader.
There is only a discordant note in Steinbeck’s symphony that dulls the otherwise colorful picture: old Doc has come back home from the front a changed man; his boundless love for the sea, its marine creatures and even the appeasing voices of Gregorian chants have lost their allure. Doc has run out of the selfless love that kept all the community tied up together and an impending sense of dread has darkened the mood of the whole neighborhood.
Trying to reconnect with his former self and screaming out in stifling loneliness, Doc reopens his laboratory and embarks on a new project to study the behavioral pattern of octopuses in situations of stress (yes, Steinbeck’s humor shines with gusto), thinking that hard work will raise his spirits while ignoring the inner voice that nags mercilessly at him about what is missing in his life.
Luckily for Doc, Mack and Fauna know exactly what he needs to be a complete man again, and an improbable sequence of events will entertain and warm the heart of any reader who was missing the gang of crooks, vagrants, prostitutes and drunks that live in peaceful fellowship in Cannery Row.
Once more, Steinbeck’s prose is a delight to read. With loads of selfeffacing and goodnatured humor, he uses comedy and rich vocabulary salted with fine irony and a pinch of surrealism to create characters that will beat the odds and prevail over the grim circumstances that have been imposed on them.
Forty chapters with titles, sporadic poetry and plenty of philosophy fill the pages of this endearing tale of love and friendship. Time takes the best of us, and new yearnings plague even the most lone wolves when the moment is right.
The sea is lonely without its fish. Doc’s solitude is the birth of a metamorphosis that will bring some anguish and selfdoubt but also the only chance that his dreams and wishes will materialize and make him whole. If you had such an opportunity, would you let it pass by without risking everything you have to get it?
I thought so, and so did Steinbeck.
Sweet Thursday: Cannery Row Redux
The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.Happy Thought, from a Child's Garden of Verse, Robert Louis Steverson
If you love the works of John Steinbeck as I do, it does not matter whether the critics have labeled one of his novels among his major novels. Even a "minor" Steinbeck is a joy to pick up and read. Even reread. Recently I reveled in Cannery Row. Originally published in 1947, Steinbeck set the novel in the waning years of the Great Depression. It was natural to jump into Sweet Thursday.
Steinbeck's return to the Row was published in 1954. Although the setting is the same the community has gone through significant changes. Time has jumped forward to the years following World War Two. The Sardine canneries that flourished, providing the main economic flow in Monterey have closed. The fisheries have been over harvested during the war years.
Familiar faces are absent. Lee Chong has sold his store and sailed to the South Pacific. Dora, the madam of the Bear Flag has died in her sleep. Gay, one of the boys living at the Palace Flophouse and Grill was killed in the war.
New faces have arrived on the Row in their places. Lee sold his store to Joseph and Mary, known as the Patron, a con man and chiseler, looking to exploit the growing immigrant population. Flora, Dora's older sister has taken over the Bear Flag with a new perspective on the trade; to graduate her working girls into married women. She records their graduation by posting a gold star to commemorate their happy events. And there's Suzy, a girl down on her luck who takes up residence at the Bear Flag though Flora doubts she's cut out for the working life.
Otherwise, Steinbeck happily brings back the usual suspects to the pages of Sweet Thursday. Doc remains the "first citizen" of the row, the man to whom everyone goes for a consultation on any matter for which they need an answer. However, Doc has been to war. He returns to find his lab inactive and questioning his future, whether he has anything left to contribute in the time left to him. As usual he becomes involved in an esoteric scientific question: the topic of apoplexy in octopi. It will be the topic of a paper which he cannot seem to write. And everyone notices that Doc just doesn't seem to be himself.
Of course, everyone on the Row wants to do something "GOOD" for Doc. However Doc is caught in a spiral of despair.
“Now discontent nibbled at himnot painfully, but constantly. 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. And to prod all these there's time, the bastard Time. The end of life is now not so terribly far awayyou can see it the way you see the finish line when you come into the stretchand your mind says, "Have I worked enough? Have I eaten enough? Have I loved enough?" All of these, of course, are the foundation of man's greatest curse, and perhaps his greatest glory. "What has my life meant so far, and what can it mean in the time left to me?" And now we're coming to the wicked, poisoned dart: "What have I contributed in the Great Ledger? What am I worth?" And this isn't vanity or ambition. Men seem to be born with a debt they can never pay no matter how hard they try. It piles up ahead of them. Man owes something to man. If he ignores the debt it poisons him, and if he tries to make payments the debt only increases, and the quality of his gift is the measure of the man.”
In his wanderings, Doc encounters a mysterious hermit who tells Doc what his problem is. It's the lack of love. Well everyone on the Row has figured that out. Flora and Mack and the boys all think Doc needs a woman. Flora thinks Suzy is ready for a gold star.
All the residents of the Row set out to throw Doc and Suzy together. However the two just don't seem to fit. Actually they fight like cats and dogs. But they're looking for the same thing.
“Well, I remember this girl. I am not whole without her. I am not alive without her. When she was with me I was more alive than I have ever been, and not only when she was pleasant either. Even when we were fighting I was whole.”
“Maybe what I want ain't anywhere in the world, but I want it, so I think there is such a thing. I want a guy that's wide open. I want him to be a real guy, maybe even a tough guy, but I want a window in him. He can have his dukes up every other place but not with me. And he got to need the hell out of me. He got to be the kind of guy that if he aint' got me he ain't got nothing. And brother, that guy's going to have something!”
Steinbeck's return to the Row is a joyous, ribald celebration of life. It is a delight from start to finish. Minor? If you're a literary critic, maybe so. For the Steinbeck admirer, it's an absolute must. Read it.
Published in 1954, John Steinbeck's sequel to Cannery Row arrived nine years after its predecessor and directly followed the monumental world building of East of Eden. This might explain why Sweet Thursday is on much more sober footing than Steinbeck's previous literary excursions to Monterey, California; rather than loosely connected vignettes connected to a party, this is more of a fullyformed novel, with a doggone romance as its centerpiece.
In a prologue, Steinbeck indulges in a delightful bit of metafiction. Mack, king of the Palace Flophouse and leader of the indigents who squat there, comments on Cannery Row and how he would've written the book differently. Mack's beef is that the author should've included chapter titles to help jog the reader's memory. He then launches into general literary critique that's easy to read as an address by Steinbeck to his contemporaries:
"Well, I like a lot of talk in a book, and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. And another thingI kind of like to figure out what the guy's thinking by what he says. I like some description too," he went on. "I like to know what color a thing is, how it smells and maybe how it looks, and maybe how a guy feels about itbut not too much of that."
"Chapter 1: What Happened In Between" picks up most of the characters of Cannery Row after the end of World War II. Marine biologist Doc returns from a stint as a tech sergeant to find Western Biological Laboratories, which Doc had entrusted to a trust fund baby and fellow scientist known as Old Jingleballicks, run into disrepair.
Mack and the boys (Hazel, Whitey No. 1 and Whitey No. 2) still reside rentfree at the Palace Flophouse, but Lee Chong has sold the Heavenly Flower Grocery to a street hustler from Los Angeles named Joseph and Mary, who found the odds in drug trafficking too steep and transitioned into human trafficking instead. By chance, Joseph and Mary discovered a few of his wards had musical talent. He's now found a new hustle: show business management.
Dora Flood, owner of the Bear Flag Restaurant, died in her sleep. The whorehouse has been inherited by her next of kin, an older sister from San Francisco named Flora, who's rechristened "Fauna" by one of the regulars. Fauna runs the Bear Flag as a finishing school of sorts, priding herself in marrying her girls off to proper gentlemen. Against every instinct, Fauna takes in a new arrival to Monterey named Suzy, a tough kid whose heart (as well as her mouth) is too big to make it as a hustler.
With no wife and no children, Doc has begun to think seriously about his legacy and hits upon the idea to write a paper on cephalopods, noting his many detailed observations about the moods of octopi. Instead, he develops a bad case of writer's block and a cloud falls over all of Cannery Row. Fauna sees that Suzy is too opinionated to excel as an employee of the Bear Flag and needs a husband as much as Mack needs a wife to lift him out of his malaise.
Meanwhile, Mack and the boys are worried that the deed to the Palace Flophouse has been sold to Joseph and Mary without his knowledge but when the new owner receives a tax bill, the tenants will be expected to pay rent. Mack's brainstorm is to raffle off the "deed" to the flophouse, using the raffle to buy Doc an expensive microscope and rig the contest so that he inherits the flophouse as well. Fauna and Mack's schemes converge, without Doc or Suzy having much to say about it.
Sweet Thursday (the day between Lousy Wednesday and Waiting Friday) is a delight. Steinbeck conjures a world I didn't want to leave. The climate and atmosphere of postwar Montereywith its shuttered canneries, its fishing fleets, its working girls, philosophers and charlatansis just one facet. Steinbeck is a student of human nature and has a wonderful way of noting what's wrong with people without being bitten by bitterness or cynicism.
Several of the characters of Cannery Row get the idea to do something nice for Doc, when in the end, they do what they really want, which is something nice for the person they know best: themselves. But their scams are always out in the open. Characters lie, cheat, steal, slack off and take advantage of each other, but they feel bad about it too. And with Monterey as small as it is, they have to live with their guilt and atone for it in some way, which I found hopeful. This usually leads to a greater disaster, but it makes for delightful reading.
Somewhere in there is the story of the whole human race.
I leave you with some wisdom from Steinbeck regarding choosing a wife.
"You know, they say there's three good reasons for marrying a hustler."
"What are you talking about?" said Doc.
Mack counted on his fingers. "Number one, she ain't likely to wandershe's done all her experimenting. Number two, you ain't likely to surprise her or disappoint her. And number three, if a hustler goes for you she ain't got but one reason."
Doc watched him, hypnotized. "What reason?"
"She likes you. Good night, Doc."
We have the love that Mack, Hazel and the gang feel for Doc, their friend and mentor. They want to set him up with a home, a girl and a microscope (don't ask), and almost but not quite get it right.
We have the slow burn love affair between Suzy and Doc. From totally different backgrounds, repelled and attracted in equal measure, but always set to get together in the end.
Most of all we have the love that Steinbeck clearly has for Cannery Row and it's motley cast of characters. They may be living on the wrong side of town, have intermittent work prospects and have a relaxed attitude to morals and the law but their colourful and joyful lives are a treat to read.
Written with affection and wit this is a wonderful book, worth a read.
Since listening to an audiobook edition of Cannery Row earlier this year and falling in love with both the characters and Steinbeck's writing, I've looked forward to reading this sequel. It's set about ten years after the events of Cannery Row. Doc has returned from army service to his work at the Western Biological Laboratory and finds himself unsatisfied and depressed. This makes the other denizens of Cannery Row decide that Doc needs a wife and that Suzya new girl at the Bear Flag Restaurantis the wife for him.
Unlike Cannery Row, which is essentially a series of linked vignettes, Sweet Thursday has a more traditional structure. In many ways it resembles a 1950s romantic comedythink Spencer Tracey and Katharine Hepburn*in which boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. In the process of finding true love, both Doc and Suzy have to learn a lot about themselves and about each other. Getting Doc and Suzy together requires effort from Doc's friends, including Mack and the boys at the Palace Flophouse (and in particular the dimwitted but sweet Hazel), Dora and the girls at the Bear Flag Restaurant and the new owner of Lee Chong's Grocery, who revels in the name of Jesus and Mary.
I loved reading this novel. The characters are welldrawn and the narrative contains both humour and wisdom about the human condition. I love Steinbeck's use of language: there's something about the directness of his prose, its accessibility and its beauty, which really speaks to me. This is not a highbrow work. It may not be up there with The Grapes of Wrath in terms of literary merit, but for anyone who has read and loved Cannery Row, it's a real treat. I will definitely be reading it again. Spending time with Doc and those who love him is a joy.
*Not that I visualise Tracey and Hepburn in the roles of Doc and Suzy, but the sparring and the repartee which characterised their onscreen relationship would be just right for this pair.
A good companion piece to CANNERY ROW. I enjoyed this book.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the advice you gave the author in the prologue. You were entirely right, and helped him write a masterpiece! After all, who would know better than you how to describe the intricate balance of talk, action and hooptedoodle, and chapters and settings and characters that form the unforgettable microcosm of Cannery Row?
Uninformed people might get the notion that Cannery Row is a hopeless dump filled with uneducated tricksters, bums, whores and criminals. But that is not true at all. Cannery Row is a place where people care for each other, help out, throw parties, try to cheer each other up when they are depressed. They fight for their right to their share of love, peace and happiness, and of course they suffer. For they are humans. Firstrate feeling, acting, living, cheating, drinking, meddling humans.
Starting with good intentions and ambitions, they screw up most of their projects, and ruin themselves and each other in the process, but they NEVER give up caring for Cannery Row and its inhabitants, and trying to do things better next time despite repeated disastrous results.
Sometimes that means throwing a masquerade party to raffle off the Palace Flophouse, and a collective effort to get Doc married. Sometimes it means breaking an arm as an act of compassion, and sometimes it means faking a fake horoscope to relieve a poor hero’s anxiety over the burden that he’s destined to become the President of The United States Of America.
If Doc and Suzy had not ended up with each other against all odds, they would have broken the hearts of Joseph and Mary, Fauna, Mack and the boys, and especially Hazel, who had to rise to unbelievable heights of thinking to solve Doc’s problem.
Whoever can follow the scene where Mack emergencyteaches Suzy how to drive a car with chalk drawn on the floor without laughing and crying, has not got the Cannery Row spirit. Whoever manages not to burst out in bitter laughter when Mack and the boys hand over the gift for Doc, the biggest TELESCOPE in the catalogue, has no heart for the creation of our father who art in nature, as quoted in Cannery Row, the prequel to Sweet Thursday:
“Our Father who art in nature, who has given the gift of survival to the coyote, the common brown rat, the English sparrow, the house fly and the moth, must have a great and overwhelming love for nogoods and blotsonthetown and bums, and Mack and the boys. Virtues and graces and laziness and zest. Our Father who art in nature.”
What does it matter that it was a MICROSCOPE Doc needed? After all, Steinbeck manages to link the macro cosmosas seen in a telescopeto the miniature world of Monterey by zooming in the cosmic microscope on the tiny, dusty street of Cannery Row. He recreates the nature of the whole world in a bittersweet, hilarious tale of heroic bums and loving hookers.
This is Steinbeck at his best! From first to last page, I enjoyed every toss and turn of the story. Steinbeck can make a literary home of anything, just like Suzy can create a room for herself in a boiler!
And it is with bittersweet melancholy that I join Mack in his final, caring statement, closing the novel with a compliment for Hazel, the unthinking bum with the biggest heart of all:
“I think you’d of made a hell of a president,” he said. ^Download E-pub ↱ Sweet Thursday ☞ In Monterey, On The California Coast, Sweet Thursday Is What They Call The Day After Lousy Wednesday, Which Is One Of Those Days That Are Just Naturally Bad Returning To The Scene Of Cannery Row, The Weedy Lots And Junk Heaps And Flophouses Of Monterey, John Steinbeck Once More Brings To Life The Denizens Of A Netherworld Of Laughter And Tears From Fauna, New Headmistress Of The Local Brothel, To Hazel, A Bum Whose Mother Must Have Wanted A Daughter