October 31, 2011

The Wayward Bus ***

*** The Wayward Bus, John Steinbeck, 1947

This off-schedule review comes to you courtesy of a last-minute visit to the home of Steinbeck, Salinas, California.

My first impression of Steinbeck was the result of a forced reading of The Red Pony in high school, and the result was not good. Over a decade later a cab driver in San Francisco persuaded me to give him another try, recommending Cannery Row, and much to my surprise my opinion was completely reversed. That novel was also responsible for my Guinness float experiment yet a decade later.

So, when I discovered that I would be near Monterey, California with a day to kill before my flight home, I realized I would finally have a chance to spend some time in Salinas rather than pass by on the 101 from one business meeting to another. I decided to visit the Steinbeck Museum and have lunch at the restaurant in his childhood home, and in preparation, I went to my to-be-read shelf, where there are always several Steinbeck novels to choose from, and selected The Wayward Bus, which I've been hauling around from state to state and house to house for several years, now. This is a first edition that is about to fall apart and I'm surprised it survived the plane trip and the driving around of the week in California.

I was a bit gun shy as my last Steinbeck read was In Dubious Battle, which I estimate to be nothing more than a well-written propaganda pamphlet for unionizing migrant workers. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover the Steinbeck I have come to know and love. Excellent writing and character development, although very little plot. The structure is more of a pilgrimage that a hero's journey, although the bus doesn't actually roll until around page 140. The Juan arc could bear some scrutiny to which I will not subject it at present.

I haven't read a novel with an omniscient POV for quite a while, and it was interesting to go there. Not as much a market for that these days, but this novel was published 64 years ago, after all.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

p. 65. She wanted to meet new and strange people and through such contacts become new and strange herself.

p. 67. Of her father's emotional life she knew nothing whatever, just as he knew nothing of hers. Indeed, she thought that a man in middle age had no emotional life. Mildred, who was twenty-one, felt that the saps and juices were all dried up at fifty, and rightfully so, since neither men nor women were attractive at that age. A man or a woman in love at fifty would have been an obscene spectacle to her.

p. 186. "Whatever side everybody else is on, Van Brunt is gonna be on the other side. There's a fellow wouldn't vote for the second coming of Christ if it was a popular measure."

I particularly enjoyed the character Bernice, who as soon as something happened, would narrate it to herself in her head in past tense as if writing about it to a friend. Very clever.

If you haven't read Steinbeck in a while, give him a whirl. One Steinbeck a year is a good habit to develop.

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