Review of 'Cannery Row'

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

In Depression-era California, “Cannery Row” is in Monterey where amongst the many canneries live a number of memorable characters. There is Lee Chong, the Chinese immigrant who runs the local store; the quirky scientist “Doc” who collects various marine specimens for sale; Dora Flood strong-willed owner and proprietor of the local whore house “Bear Flag Restaurant”; “Mack” an unemployed vagrant who spends his time with his friends drinking and not a lot else; “Hazel” is the somewhat dim-headed friend of Mack; finally, part-time bartender “Eddie” who supplies Mack and his friends with “hooch” made from pouring all of the leftover drinks from the bar into a jug. One day, Mack and his friends decide to show Doc their appreciation for his generosity and support…

This is a wonderful, gentle, charming book chronicling the lives of some interesting characters. Often “Cannery Row” is amusing and tragic at the same time with glorious descriptive prose from Steinback. This is the story of a simpler, more desperate time now long past, indeed, the real “Cannery Row” is now filled with tourist attractions and fish restaurants having been scrubbed clean of these grubby characters. This is a slightly nostalgic look back at this time when all there was to fill the time was drink and talk…

“Cannery Row” is very similar to Tortilla Flat in that it has a similar cast of unique characters that the story each, in turn, introduces us to that leads us to a small adventure in which they feature. The joy here is in just letting the wonderful, simple yet utterly expressive prose roll over you as you read. “Cannery Row” has to be amongst my favourite Steinback novel, perhaps just pipped to the post by Of Mice and Men but that is at least partly because the later is a story I read in my youth and one that I have fond memories of.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2021-03-20

Genre: Classic

Publication Date: 1945

Other reviewed books by John Steinbeck: