I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at not batting an eye at seeing crazy things. I’ve lived in New York for a few years now and you have to just accept the crazy and move on with your day. But my cynicism is nothing compared to Steinbeck’s in Cannery Row.
Without so much as a hyphen, he drops in doozies like finding a beautiful dead girl while out on a fishing trip. And he slips in a family that lives in a boiler and rents out pipes so quickly that if you sneeze you’d miss it (you can hear the snores echo at night if you listen closely). Hilarious, scary, and touching moments are all a part of life at Cannery Row, and Steinbeck weaves them in so naturally you need to really pay attention to see the beauty of it all.
But maybe that’s not cynicism. Maybe that’s optimism. To find these moments of hope and heart in your community among the work and strife is truly beautiful. And these moments were my favorite moments of the book.
The rest of the town was also great. Doc is a wonderful character whose pathological lies are the perfect counterbalance to his goodness. Mack’s manipulations are only matched by the love for his new puppy. We know Mack’s selfish schemes can’t end well, but the way they fall apart is a lovely surprise each time. And the language was another beautiful surprise.
My favorite quotes:
- They did not measure their joy in goods sold, their egos in bank balances, nor their loves in what they cost.
- ..where men hungering for love destroy everything lovable about them.
- …for a starfish loves to hang onto something and for an hour these had found only each other.
- No one has studied the psychology of a dying party. It may be raging, howling, boiling, and then a fever sets in and a little silence and then quickly quickly it is gone, the guests go home or go to sleep or wander away to some other affair and they leave a dead body.
- Who wants to be good if he has to be hungry too?
- And no one was invited. Everyone was going.
You may not be invited to the community you live in, but those who live at Cannery Row choose to participate. They share kindness, hope, distress, and–best of all–a good party.