Book Review: Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck

A name that should sound familiar, winner of 1962’s Nobel Prize in Literature, John Steinbeck is a major American writer. In 1954 he wrote Sweet Thursday.

Deep in the heart of Monterey was a district known as Cannery Row, so named for the canning of fisherman’s catches that made the district vibrant. Does it still exist? At the time of this writing it seems like canning had moved to newer grounds. What’s left in it’s wake? Well, Western Biological, Bear Flag, and the Palace Flophouse. Thus the story unfolds.

Doc, a marine biologist, returns home from War to his laboratory known as Western Biological that was once the cultural hub of Cannery Row and a ‘gettin’ by just good enough’ science lab that prepared specimens for biology classes to observe through a microscope. Naturally, everything has changed for him now that he’s returned a war veteran, with Western Biological left in what seems like an abandoned state by the person he left in charge, Old Jingleballics. Even Bear Flag, the brothel, is under new management, albeit the sister of the deceased manager who was also the silent partner in the establishment.

However, Doc thinks he hasn’t changed. And being a scientist, he is naturally very good at reasoning how he hasn’t changed.

And then in walks Sara with her heart of gold and hips that sway, and Doc notices. And Doc fights.

The cast of Sweet Thursday are a rag tab bunch of characters whose lives revolve around lots of booze and scheming. I wouldn’t necessarily say they all have hearts of gold, but I would say that throughout the book they each have their own moment of letting their hearts shine through regardless of how much it goes against their unique characters. Even Fauna, the manager of the Black Flag.

Sometimes shorter stories like this, 180 pages in my version, leave so many questions and impossibilities that makes it hard for me to really fall in love with a book. However, I’ll remember Sweet Thursday. It wasn’t so far out there like some fiction can be, and it was also unique in characters and location that’ll make me remember them for a good time. It’s hard not to associate with the 50s Californian utopia.

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