Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Prong's - Sixth Review - Cannery Row

This being my 'year of the classics,' I decided that it was time to begin easing myself into that great literary master known as John Steinbeck. It has been at least 7 years since I last picked up something by Steinbeck and I felt that it was best to just get my feet wet first before I plunged head first into the deep water of 'East of Eden'. I am going to attempt to keep this review short and sweet, much like Cannery Row itself. Enjoy.

"...a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream."
Cannery Row
John Steinbeck

If you have ever heard me talk about my favorite literary works, you have probably heard me throw out that Winesburg, Ohio is one of my favorite short novellas of all time. After reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, there is a good chance that Sherwood Anderson has been dethroned. (Oddly enough both titles are simple names of places. Coincidence?) Set in the backdrop of the Great Depression, Steinbeck replicates an entire world within a world as he details the characters, homes, and events that took place along the street of Cannery Row in Monterey, California.

Cannery Row as a work of literature is centered entirely around the characters that inhabit it. The plot unfolds gradually, letting the characters reveal their ideas and intentions in their own time. Nothing is forced or dishonest and the plot is simple. A few of the main characters wa
nt to throw a party for one of the most enigmatic members of their small community, and the plot details the events leading up to and after the party. If I had to sum up this book in one word it would be 'refreshing.' Steinbeck gives a nice reminder to all writers that a good story does not have to revolve around plot twists, shock value, or historical achievements. Instead, I was absorbed by this tiny novel that consisted of characters so real and complicated that I could see bits of myself in every single one of them. Their pain was my pain, and their struggle for understanding and fulfillment rests within everyone. Cannery Row is a place where:
“…men in fear and hunger destroy their stomachs in the fight to secure certain food, where men hungering for love destroy everything lovable about them.”
One of my favorite literary devices that Steinbeck used constantly throughout the book was the personification of many different animals in comparison to the lives of the characters. Steinbeck would describe looking into a tide pool and seeing the movements and actions of the creatures below. Some would be agressive and some curious, some were fragile and others were compelling. What the reader could see from looking into the water of the tide pools was a reflection of their own lives.
“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 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 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 let the stories crawl in by themselves.”
There is of course a distinct beginning, middle, and end, without any real climax. Instead of feeling like a fiction, Cannery Row reads more like an autobiography -- that of the actual town. The story has a pulse, a heartbeat with the characters as the veins, winding and connecting, pushing the story along. When the story ends you feel as though a life has come full circle, and passes away naturally and without remorse. I would suggest this work for anyone who is just looking for a good old fashioned story. I could say so much more about this story... but what you take from these characters and their experiences is the real plot of the book, so I will leave it up to you, my readers, to figure it out. 4/5



  1. Prongs you might like Grapes of Wrath better than East of Eden (I did anyway). Great review on Cannery Row. Its one I haven't read yet but my husband did and really enjoyed it.

  2. I still haven't read any Steinbeck...I should do something about that, and a short novella sounds like the ideal starting place!

  3. I'll have to read this. Loved Grapes of Wrath!

  4. Yea it is definitely worth the read. Hm maybe I will be swapping East of Eden out.

  5. Oh god.. I'm going to go back to Steinbeck very soon! Although the last time I picked up one of his works, it was Tortilla Flat, and I have to admit I never really clicked...

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  7. Thanks for churning out all these great reviews about them classics. We all need a dose of 'em from time to time! By the way, I'm interested in picking up Les Miserables, so is that good? I mean it's a classic and I've seen great reviews about it. But would love to know opinions of good reviewers! :P

    Another good review!

  8. I already loved Cannery Row, but now you have me wanting to read it again. Good review.

  9. Bingo-Thank you so much! We will be getting all of our lovley awards up soon and will be having a special post dedicated to all the new friends we have been making, so make sure to keep an eye out for it.

    HalfCrazy- Thanks I am glad you appreciate the classics as well. I feel like since I'm an English major is time for me to bust out a couple more. I am not sure about Les Mis. That might be one I have to let Padfoot field... but if you want sometime I can always give you a list of some of my top favs since we seem to have similar tastes.

  10. Christy- Thanks so much! Yea I can imagine it would def be worth a second read. I am really bad about rereading. I always feel like there is so much more to books the second time around.

  11. Sure, you go ahead and give me that list, I think I'm gonna go book shopping like Monday or Tuesday, I need to get me some Classics! But I'm only gonna buy two, though.

  12. I loved Grapes of Wrath and have been meaning to read Cannery Row. My husband and I went there when we honeymooned in Carmel (Monterey is do close), and I was just enthralled. I am definitely adding this to my list. Great review.

  13. Perhaps this is the novel that will finally sway me to Steinbeck? I was famous for loathing him for a time, back in high school. One of my greatest complaints was that his characters are flat and uninteresting, but this could be good. As always, good review! I love that I can count on you to not churn out overly-appreciative reviews of poorly written YA-fiction.

    HalfCrazy, Les Miserables is very good, it's just a bit difficult. It is a brick. Give it a try, and come back to it later if you're not quite up to it. (But it's been years since I read it, so this might be a bit off.)

  14. Nirnia- Yea that has always been my problems with 'classics'...they are bricks. It can be alot to take down, especially if you are not in the right mind set.

    Thanks so much for the nice comment. I am not a huge YA fan (Unless you count Harry Potter which I don't haha) so you can always count on me to leave that out. I think my taste is just a little to warped for YA....think American Psycho/Fear and loathing. Yea Cannery Row is def all about the character building. If you have read Winesburg Ohio it is verrry comparable to that.

  15. This one is on my list... also...I loved Grapes of Wrath, but I must say, East of Eden is such a masterpiece, and a different kind of book altogether, you have to read it.


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