I'm the kind of person who skips to the conversation when reading a book.

Cannery Row (again)

CanneryRowWhen first I wrote a post entitled “Cannery Row” it was without having read the book by John Steinbeck.

And what a book by Steinbeck!  What a book!

I kept thinking, as I read Cannery Row, that if this had been my first exposure to Steinbeck, I would have been a fan for life.

In high school, I read Of Mice and Men and found it so thoroughly disturbing and depressing that I vowed never again to read Steinbeck.  He tricked me, however, with shorter novels like The Red Pony and The Pearl.

Oh, but Cannery Row… In Cannery Row I fell in love with Steinbeck.

Cannery Row is a love story.  It’s about God.  I’ll bet that nobody else says that about it.  It’s a love story about a deep abiding love for humans in their human condition.  The third person narrator writes with a love that transcends our human ways.  In Cannery Row, the narrator’s love flows through every word.

Cannery Row is an intertwined series of vignettes.  People come and go, just as they come and go through our lives.  In my own life, some days I can make three or four trips to our local grocery store, and then I’ll go a week without going at all.  That’s Lee Chong, essential for some stories, not just because he’s the grocer, but because he is a man with strengths and weakness, quirks and preferences — he is a man who plays an essential part in some of the stories, but not all.

Some might say the book is about Doc, which it is, but it isn’t.  Doc is important, but, even as important as he is, some stories are told without him.  He is good and kind and drinks beer for breakfast.

Some might say Dora is the heroine.  A madam for a heroine — it stills brings a smile to my face.  But she had a heart of gold, and generous spirit, and standards.  Yes, a madam with standards, high standards, moral standards.

Mac may be my favorite character.  Both bum and philosopher, he’s a regular screw-up with good intentions.

The least likable character is the hitchhiker that Doc picks up on his way to La Jolla.  He is mean and judgmental, but, I suppose, that may be because he is not really a part of the tapestry of Cannery Row.

As I read Cannery Row, in the back of my mind was playing a Bible passage I have been pondering.  It’s Genesis 3:8-10.  This little snippet takes place immediately after Adam and Eve ate of the tree God commanded them not to eat from.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (verse 8)

Picture it with me.  Adam and Eve have sinned, and they know they have sinned.  They are frightened and ashamed.  But what is God feeling?   I think that it is the same thing He has felt since the beginning of time, and still feels today.  Love.  He wants to spend time with the man and the woman He made.  This is evidenced by the next verse:

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

This question always makes me laugh.  God knew where they were.  He is omniscient.  I think the reason He called to them is that He wanted them to know that He wanted to see them and that He wanted to spend time with them.

We (I) tend to picture God pointing a bony finger at us, accusing us of all we have ever done wrong.  No, He knows, but He doesn’t accuse.  He loves.

Steinbeck’s Cannery Row helped me to see that.  The love that Steinbeck showed for each of his characters is, in such a small way, reminiscent of the great love God shows for us.  We can’t hide from Him.  We can’t cover our nakedness or our sins.  He already knows, and He still loves us.

That is the whole rest of the Bible, a love story about God’s great love for His people, how He never gives up on them, but over, and over, and over, and over again extends a welcoming hand to us.  We need only need accept it.

John Steinbeck begins Cannery Row with this —

[Cannery Row’s] 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 holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.

Which peephole do you think God is looking through?


This post was, in part, inspired by the Daily Prompt: Do Over!  Go back to a blog post you always thought could be better, or were unsatisfied with — now, fix it.  I didn’t “Do-Over” though;  I wrote a whole new post.


8 comments on “Cannery Row (again)

  1. Judy Guion
    April 10, 2013

    I don’t think I’ve ever read Cannery Row and now I want to get it and read it for the first time. I love your insight.

    • sarahlangdon
      April 12, 2013

      I hope you like it, Judy. Be forewarned — it’s full of salty characters who use salty language. I guess that could be expected, lived near canneries….

  2. Serena
    April 10, 2013

    Glad you got to read this great book 🙂 Of mice and men was rather upsetting but it was well written as they all are I think.

    • sarahlangdon
      April 12, 2013

      Yes, he is a great writer, and tells a story so well.

  3. catterel
    April 10, 2013

    I went through a Steinbeck phase about 40 years ago – enjoyed everything, recommended them to everyone, and then never re-read any! You make me want to get back into that frame of mind. Thanks!

    • sarahlangdon
      April 12, 2013

      That’s funny because I’ve been a long phase of reading British authors. It all started with Jane Austen, then Anthony Trollope and Thomas Hardy, then everything Charles Dickens ever wrote. I can’t say I’ve ever been in an American author phase — except Mark Twain, and that was mostly children’s books.

  4. catterel
    April 13, 2013

    Anthony Trollope’s novel “The Warden” was a set book for Eng. Lit. exams when I was 15 – I HATED it, so longwinded and boring, and it put me off Trollope for life. Now perhaps I’m old and mature enough to enjoy his work!

    • sarahlangdon
      April 13, 2013

      And I loved “The Warden” — but I didn’t have to read it when I was 15. I was probably in my 30s when I first picked up an Anthony Trollope novel.

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