Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Steinbeck will forever remind me of Lee and Adam. I put off reading Steinbeck for a long time while I was at DLI in Monterey because I somehow felt it was the literary equivalent of wearing the shirt of the band you're seeing in concert to the concert. At some point, however, Lee convinced me otherwise and lent me his copy of Cannery Row. Inside the cover was an inscription from his girlfriend of the time, written in pink highlighter with the big block letters of a child, "I love Lee!"

I began to read not knowing what to expect as I'd never experienced his writing. The last paragraph of the first chapter reads,
How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise--the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream--be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book--to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves.

And that is the case. The stories develop in a way that feels as though you're watching a flower bloom. The characters interact and speak in a way that when the book is over, you find yourself looking for Doc and the others as you walk down the street...they become real in a way I've not yet felt from another book.

The transition from Cannery Row to Sweet Thursday, the sequel, is equally tragic and fulfilling. You learn what's happened in the interim and, like life, time changes everything and yet, little changes.

I've re-read these two books annually since then, and each reading has given me something new. I've discovered a new description or a new sentence that excites me. I've loved and hated the same characters, or felt pity and contempt at different times. One story will make me laugh and a year later, brings tears...but, I think that has more to do with what the last five years have given me than with what Steinbeck gives me.

Back at DLI, we passed Lee's copy between the three of us...back and forth until it was dogeared and worn. We took it to the beach with us, and to San Francisco. I would guess it made the trip to Big Sur and Santa Cruz...maybe to the cliffs where Adam and I ate sandwiches. It was, almost constantly, being read by one of us.

We imagined ourselves at the Palace Flophouse...with a mangy dog, and some beer, and our company. No more studying, no more work or worries. No one getting pregnant or divorced or killed or angry...just friends, who cared about each other and liked the company. We would talk about when we got out of the we'd save our money and get an apartment where we'd smoke pot and drink beer and sit in our boxers until our funds ran out. Sometimes, we'd try and imagine what the perfect life for our futures would be. We kind of assumed we'd all be married...but that wasn't a neccessity. All that mattered, as far as we could see, was that we'd live near enough one another that after work (which was only a neccessary evil in our grand plans), we could get together at a bar or one of our houses, drink beer and think about the good times we'd had before.

I guess my point in writing this is...if you haven't read Steinbeck yet, read him.


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