Jeffrey Keeten's Reviews > Cannery Row

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
3427339
's review

really liked it
Read 2 times. Last read April 8, 2017.

“Doc would listen to any kind of nonsense and turn it into wisdom. His mind had no horizon and his sympathy had no warp. He could talk to children, telling them very profound things so that they understood. He lived in a world of wonders, of excitement. He was concupiscent as a rabbit and gentle as hell. Everyone who knew him was indebted to him. And everyone who thought of him thought next, 'I really must do something nice for Doc.’”

 photo Cannery20Row_zpsuqwq6fdw.jpg
Cannery Row

Doc is one of those fictional characters that never leaves a reader’s memory. This book is dedicated to a man by the name of Ed Ricketts who was a marine biologist with a lab, like Doc, on Cannery Row in Monterey, California. Whenever I discover that a fictional character is based on a real person, it seems to lend extra life to that fictional person. It puts bones under the skin and blood in the veins.

It becomes evident, very quickly, how much John Steinbeck admired Ricketts. The biologist has a profound impact on his writing and also on the writing of Joseph Campbell, who, like Steinbeck, lived in Monterey and spent as much time in Ricketts’s lab as possible. The influence of Ricketts on Steinbeck is palpable in The Pearl, Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday, The Log of the Sea of Cortez, The Moon is Down, and The Grapes of Wrath. Ricketts’ death, killed tragically young when his car is hit by a Del Monte Express Train just up the hill from Cannery Row, has a profound impact on many people. Steinbeck’s writing suffers after the death of his friend, and in the opinion of many critics, his writing after 1948 is diminished, except for his final epic East of Eden.

 photo Edward20Ricketts_zps7jbedciu.jpg
Edward Ricketts

It makes me wonder, would we know John Steinbeck’s name if he’d never met Ed Ricketts? Or what if he had never been influenced by what he experienced while living in Cannery Row?

It is a place at the right time tailor made to inspire a writer.

“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitant 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 holymen’ and he would have meant the same thing.”

Lee Chong runs the grocery store which is really a general store because you can find just about anything that you need and most things you never knew you wanted. Lee never discounts. Everything is the price it was when it was first carried in the door. He “rents out” a building he acquired as trade for an overdue grocery bill to a group of layabout guys who work when they have to, but choose not to work when they absolutely don’t need any money. It was interesting to see a bit into the mind of Lee as he ponders the universe and weighs the benefits and risks of any investment. He has an ongoing financial battles with the boys from The Palace Flophouse and Grill, which is the rather creative name the guys decided to use to refer to the Lee Chong storage shed, as they try to tempt him into their many doomed enterprises.

There is also Dora Flood who manages the Bear Flag Restaurant, but she is more accurately described as Madam Flood as the Bear Flag Restaurant isn’t a restaurant, but a whorehouse. She gives twice as much to charitable organizations as anyone else. She bends over backwards (Not so much over a bed anymore) to help people in need. She never turns a whore out when they get too old to be productive. "Some of them don't turn three tricks a month, but they go right on eating three meals a day." She is a whore with the heart of gold, but with an astute head for trying to not agitate the more conservative wives of the community.

 photo Ed20Rickettss20lab_zpsv5cs5le6.jpg
Ed Ricketts’s lab on Cannery Row.

Doc is lonely, but he isn’t alone. He doesn’t have a John Steinbeck living next door or a Joseph Campbell living down the street, but he never seems to lack for female companionship. Whenever the Sistine Choir or Gregorian Chants can be heard coming from Doc’s laboratory everyone knows he is in the midst of wooing well on his way to fornicating.

Doc takes a road trip down the coast of California to collect some specimens for his laboratory. We travel along with him and as the towns are listed off...Salinas, Gonzales, King City, Paso Robles, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara I had a distinct heart pain of longing for the Golden State. He stops off frequently to sample the local cuisine and also manages to cross a very unusual concoction off his bucket list. “If a man ordered a beer milkshake he'd better do it in a town where he wasn't known.” He orders more than once while on this trip a healthy slice of pineapple and blue cheese pie. It sounds so weird that I have to try it.

Steinbeck sprinkles in some poetry from Black Marigolds by E. Powys Mathers. It is sensual and evocative poetry.

Even now
Death sends me the flickering of powdery lids
Over wild eyes and the pity of her slim body
All broken up with the weariness of joy;
The little red flowers of her breasts to be my comfort
Moving above scarves, and for my sorrow
Wet crimson lips that once I marked as mine.

Steinbeck includes several stanzas and with each one I read my appreciation for Mathers continued to grow.

 photo Cannery_row_poster_small_zpsjb2tcquu.jpg

This book is an ode to a friend, an ode to a period of time when I can tell Steinbeck may have felt most alive, and it is an ode to Cannery Row. A perfect storm of diverse elements that contributed to making Steinbeck one of the Great American Writers. There is a film version of the book starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger which I have queued up to watch sometime this week. It looks like they muck up the film version with a love story, but I will reserve judgment until I’ve actually watched it.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
213 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Cannery Row.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 18, 2011 – Shelved
April 8, 2017 – Started Reading
April 8, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-33 of 33 (33 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Jeffrey Keeten Cannery Row


message 2: by Diane (new)

Diane Barnes This is one of my favorite books ever. Great review, and thanks for the pictures of Ed Ricketts and his lab.


Jeffrey Keeten Diane wrote: "This is one of my favorite books ever. Great review, and thanks for the pictures of Ed Ricketts and his lab."

When I looked up the picture of Ed Ricketts he became Doc for me. Finding the picture of the lab also made the book that much more real to me. Thanks Diane! Glad you caught this review. You are welcome!


Salam Ch nice review !!! one of my favorite books ever :-)


Jeffrey Keeten Salam wrote: "nice review !!! one of my favorite books ever :-)"

Thanks Salam! It is a unique book. A novel that feels like nonfiction which sort of defines a lot of Steinbeck's work.


Jeffrey Keeten Jeffrey wrote: "Salam wrote: "nice review !!! one of my favorite books ever :-)"

Thanks Salam! It is a unique book. A novel that feels like nonfiction which sort of defines a lot of Steinbeck's work."


Pretty cool to have two people comment that this is one of their favorite books.!!


message 7: by Steve (new)

Steve Great angle, Jeffrey! This Doc / Ed Ricketts character sounds fascinating. From what I gather, you've read plenty of Steinbeck at this point. Do you have a Top 5 list?


message 8: by Christina (new)

Christina Waters As thorough and compelling as ever Jeffrey. I've never been a Steinbeck fan, and you've turned me! Bravo.


message 9: by Vessey (new) - added it

Vessey The only Steinbeck I have read is East of Eden. I thought he wasn’t for me, but with this awesome review you made me want to go back to him. :) That and also the fact that I read him in my pre-GR days. I have changed a lot since then and one of the reasons is you. That’s right. :) I love you <3


Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "Great angle, Jeffrey! This Doc / Ed Ricketts character sounds fascinating. From what I gather, you've read plenty of Steinbeck at this point. Do you have a Top 5 list?"

I'm a bit outdated reading Steinbeck which is why I'm starting a reread tour.

The Keeten Top Five with proper alcoholic drink.

The Grapes of Wrath--Merlot, but you will eventually be drinking red eye whiskey as you become more depressed.
East of Eden--NG-KA-PY or a Fu Manchu Martini
Cannery Row--Go down to your local bar and ask them for the bucket that all the left over drinks go into.
Tortilla Flat---shots of tequila followed by fresh lime rubbed on your gums
Travels with Charley---cold brown ale followed by a fine cognac


Jeffrey Keeten Christina wrote: "As thorough and compelling as ever Jeffrey. I've never been a Steinbeck fan, and you've turned me! Bravo."

It definitely changed how I felt about Steinbeck when I started doing some research before reading him. Knowing the backstory gives his work that extra something something. Have you had pineapple pie with blue cheese? You are my best chance out of my friends to have traveled down that culinary road. I see you are still touring with your book. Thumbs up!!!


Jeffrey Keeten Vessey wrote: "The only Steinbeck I have read is East of Eden. I thought he wasn’t for me, but with this awesome review you made me want to go back to him. :) That and also the fact that I read him in my pre-GR d..."

Steinbeck is an acquired taste. A lot of stuff you read when you were younger will resonate more with you now that you've finally reached a respectable age of 26. Generally people aren't too useful until they hit about 35, but you might beat the curve. :-) Thanks Vessey! East of Eden will probably be my next Steinbeck.


message 13: by Steve (new)

Steve Jeffrey wrote: "The Keeten Top Five with proper alcoholic drink."

Much obliged, amigo! You've satisfied my curiosity about the books, but now you've made me thirsty. I think I might try Travels with Charley next, mostly because that drink combination sounds so good.


message 14: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Hamilton I read this book many years ago and remember liking it very much. I also remember the movie, which I thought was okay, but not nearly as good as the book. Glad you enjoyed it, Jeffery!


Jeffrey Keeten Cynthia wrote: "I read this book many years ago and remember liking it very much. I also remember the movie, which I thought was okay, but not nearly as good as the book. Glad you enjoyed it, Jeffery!"

The book is way better. The movie had to leave out some of the pieces I liked best about the book. Thanks Cynthia!


message 16: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn Great review, love this book, need to reread


Fábio Camargo Jeffrey, your reviews are completely amazing! very well-written!


Jeffrey Keeten Lyn wrote: "Great review, love this book, need to reread"

Thanks Lyn! It is a very rereadable book. I could certainly see myself pulling it off the shelf again in a few years.


Jeffrey Keeten Fábio wrote: "Jeffrey, your reviews are completely amazing! very well-written!"

Thanks Fabio! Your kind words will inspire me to keep getting better.


LucidStyle “It makes me wonder, would we know John Steinbeck’s name if he’d never met Ed Ricketts? Or what if he had never been influenced by what he experienced while living in Cannery Row?”

This is a thought worth pondering, as it is certainly true that we each can look at faces we’ve met in our lives and, if a connection was allowed to form, see the impact that others have had on us. As you’ve pointed out, a good writer is perhaps destined to not only experience those kind of relationships, but to consider and value their import in addition to being open to the ideas inspired. It’s a synergy of inspiration and creativity, one that can be felt further as it continues to flourish in JS’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez<\i>.

Thanks for your review! I'm beyond delighted to see another reader appreciative of Steinbeck's works.



Jeffrey Keeten LucidStyle wrote: "“It makes me wonder, would we know John Steinbeck’s name if he’d never met Ed Ricketts? Or what if he had never been influenced by what he experienced while living in Cannery Row?”

This is a thoug..."


I think there are series of things, sometimes little things, that determine whether a writer will blossom into a successful writer. The people they meet can prove to be very inspirational. Ricketts was inspirational to not only one writer, but two writers. They were all supposed to meet obviously. It produced some important literature.


Konstantina Great review!


message 23: by Paul (new)

Paul Bartusiak At the end of your review you write: "This book is an ode to a friend, an ode to a period of time when I can tell Steinbeck may have felt most alive, and it is an ode to Cannery Row."

...and I think your review is a wonderful Ode to Steinbeck and his novel.

I'm glad that it appears you're fully recovered from your tussle with Lawrence and his Rainbow. :) Might I dare say, though your review of it was widely liked and commented upon, it appeared to me as a bit muted in comparison to your normal standards. Stars and words notwithstanding, I can't tell if it truly was the fatigue, the level of enthusiasm, or my personally who would've never been satisfied no matter because I hold the novel is such high esteem.

Anyways, glad to see you in strong form again. Look forward to your next one.
-Paul


Henry Great review of a great book.


Jeffrey Keeten Paul wrote: "At the end of your review you write: "This book is an ode to a friend, an ode to a period of time when I can tell Steinbeck may have felt most alive, and it is an ode to Cannery Row."

...and I thi..."


Well I'm sure you did a much better job reviewing The Rainbow than I did Paul. It is a difficult book to assess properly and keep the word count under control. I allowed myself a few hundred extra words than what I normally do for a review, but could have written much more. I don't want reviews to become so ponderous that people won't read them or coming away from the review thinking that they don't want to take on a book like The Rainbow. Interesting enough I've had several people PM me to tell me that they think it is one of the best reviews I've ever written. Go figure. I'm not very good at judging my own reviews because I always find them to be disappointing. Sometimes if I read something I wrote a few months ago I can see more merit in the writing than I did when I first posted the review. I'm sorry I disappointed you on The Rainbow. It is an important book and I certainly did not want to shirk my duty to the book. There is so much to process with the book that I probably just failed to be intelligent enough or talented enough as a writer to capture the true essence of it's greatness.


Jeffrey Keeten Henry wrote: "Great review of a great book."

Thanks Henry!


message 27: by Paul (new)

Paul Bartusiak Jeffrey wrote: "Paul wrote: "At the end of your review you write: "This book is an ode to a friend, an ode to a period of time when I can tell Steinbeck may have felt most alive, and it is an ode to Cannery Row."
..."


No need to apologize, I always like your reviews; they're some of the best on Goodreads. My comment was a little tongue in cheek, which doesn't always come across in text.


Jeffrey Keeten Paul wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "Paul wrote: "At the end of your review you write: "This book is an ode to a friend, an ode to a period of time when I can tell Steinbeck may have felt most alive, and it is an ode t..."

No worries Paul. Tongue in cheek is just a more acceptable way of sharing spot on truth.


message 29: by James (new)

James Thane Another great review, Jeffrey!


Jeffrey Keeten Thanks James!


message 31: by Evetta (new)

Evetta good


message 32: by Evetta (new)

Evetta good


Jeffrey Keeten Evetta wrote: "good"

Thanks!


back to top