February 18, 2010

In Dubious Battle **

** In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck, 1936

In the interest of full disclosure I'll say up front that I'm a big Steinbeck fan. I was turned onto Steinbeck by a cab driver in San Francisco who took The Woman and me from the city to the Oakland airport in the mid 80s. My favorites: The Winter of Our Discontent, Tortilla Flats, Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday.

There, that's done. The other thing is I have another 3 or 4 Steinbeck novels on the To-Be-Read shelf that I'll get around to one day.

So, I read the back jacket of this Penguin paperback version and found this:

In Dubious Battle cannot be dismissed as a 'propaganda' novel - it is another version of the eternal human fight against injustice. . . It is the real thing; it has a vigor of sheer story-telling that may sweep away many prejudices. -New Republic

When the New Republic tries to convince you that this isn't a propaganda novel, it becomes pretty clear that where there's smoke, there's a Red. !!!

So, I began the novel with some misgivings and discovered that it was a bit of a polemic. And, as a veteran of a fiction industry rife with propaganda and agendas, I can spot this kind of thing.

Here is where the New Republic is right. It should not be dismissed as simply a propaganda novel. It's more a very well written propaganda novel with fully realized characters and a decent plot. Much different. Ha!

I enjoyed it, but did have to power through some of the invested-capital-interest vs the-poor-working-stiff verbiage. YMMV.

Update: I wrote this a few days before Joe Stack decided to fly his Piper Cherokee into the Austin IRS office. As I read his inane rant of blame of everyone else for his own choices*, I was reminded of some of the dialog in In Dubious Battle. Stuff I read and thought, "People don't think like that anymore." Turns out, they do.

*Stack joins the tax revolution of the 80s to escape paying income tax and is hit with penalties for tax evasion. What a shock! He takes a premature distribution from his IRA and is surprised that it must be counted as income. Read the fine print, Joe. He files a return prepared by a CPA that doesn't report $12,700 of income, doesn't check it for accuracy before filing, and is hit with penalties for underpayment, and he's surprised? [Last year my CPA missed $9K of income I clearly told him about. I made him redo the return and and then found another CPA. It seemed like a better idea than flying a plane into a building.] And this is all somehow other people's fault? The only bright spot in this nightmare is that he didn't achieve the high "body count" he wanted, although even the one casualty being reported at present is an unacceptable cost.


Janet S. said...

Love Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath is my all-time favorite novel. I wrote a paper in college on the "poetic structure" of one of the chapters. The prof was so taken by my choice that he read a passage (from the book, not my paper) aloud to the class, commenting "You can't get away with writing like this any more".

Brad Whittington said...

I think you can get a way with a lot more than most people hazard. You're a crazy until what you do catches on, then you're a genius.