It’s what we do, us former English Majors.
We nit-pick, we analyze, we sift through layers like dusty-headed archaeologists. Digging for theme, imagery. Praying for “a-ha!” moments, the unearthing of evidentiary shards of privilege, or better yet, latent non-normative longings! What finer shiv to be picked up and stowed away? What better weapon to cut down or to defend, depending on the trending thoughts of the day? Like scraps of giggled gossip snatched from a party, it’s always handy to secret away such information. Tools of the deconstruction.
But do take some pity on us. This fine-reading is the only specialized skill we have. It’s truly all we’ve got, especially now that smoking’s fallen out of vogue and bloviating’s been democratized to the twitterverse.
We’re cast out on graduation day, near-helpless in blaze of early summer’s sun. Bandy-legged and weak, pink flesh exposed for the first time to the harsh light of job acquisition and budgeting and the demands of proper nutrition. Unprepared for paying tasks like table-waiting and shelf-stocking and lawn-mowing, we wander wondering why no angel-winged agent has swooped in to loft us along, or at least to pave the way to a paid-for MFA.
But Cannery Row? I’m just going to let this one sit here. I’m going to leave it perched on a junk-yard pipe, like Mack and the Boys. I’m gonna pour it a drink and just enjoy its company. I found pleasure in its pages, loved the prose, the vignetted text, the hodge-podge of half-developed heroes living halved lives.
And after reading East of Eden, I’m in a generous mood with Steinbeck. But I do think he took the easy way out on this one. He pushed his follow-up thoughts off to later works, left the development and the denouement for another day. (See Sweet Thursday.)
But if it’s good enough for Steinbeck, it’s good enough for me. So I too, like the author, will adopt the philosophy of the fellas at the Palace Flophouse : “But whereas most men in their search for contentment destroy themselves and fall wearily short of their targets, Mack and his friends approached contentment casually, quietly, and absorbed it gently.”
Works for me. At least for a little while.