Bawdiness and poetry have gone together since literature existed. The Greeks did it, Chaucer did it, and in Cannery Row John Steinbeck did it, crafting a dirty, jagged, sad, hopeful, hilarious, strange prose poem to the waterfront section of Monterey, CA. There isn't a strong narrative arc, the vignettes simply evoking a mood and sense of place. The cannery workers and bums and assorted citizens of Cannery Row fight, get drunk, make love and worry in the shadow of the Great Depression while maintaining a sense of humanity.
This is Steinbeck at his most rollicking, gentlest peak. On its face Cannery Row is a celebration of life with all its vulgarities and transcendent glory. Underneath, it is an exploration of the ideals uniting communities, human individuality, and the goodness in human souls. The prose is rambunctious, elegaic, peaceful and hilarious, just like the landscape and people. No one who's encountered Doc the marine biologist, Mack the bum, Lee Chong the grocer, or Dora Flood the proprietess of the Bear Flag Restaurant will likely forget them. Steinbeck's novel is the 20th century prose equivalent of Whitman's Song of Myself, just as glorious, just as haunting.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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