“Cannery Row is a novel by American author John Steinbeck, published in 1945. It is set during the Great Depression in Monterey, California, on a street lined with sardine canneries that is known as Cannery Row. The story revolves around the people living there: Lee Chong, the local grocer; Doc, a marine biologist; and Mack, the leader of a group of derelicts.”
“While I understand the New York Times’ reservations about Steinbeck’s preachy tendencies and his occasional heavy-handedness, he just as often provides light and beautiful prose, prose brimming with warmth and charm. The opening of Cannery Row is a case in point:
‘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 inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers 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.’
Yes – a great novel from Steinbeck. One of his shorter novels. And arguably the better for it.
Like Tortilla Flat, a tad misogynistic and a tad sentimental (Steinbeck regretted the way the earlier work was seen to patronise and sentimentalise the poor characters in the stories – if not simple savages, then simple bums), but it is also a beautiful mediation on life and how it runs away with itself.