68 Following

Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

In Dubious Battle (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin)

In Dubious Battle - John Steinbeck, Warren French Considered by some to be among Steinbeck's best, In Dubious Battle is a precursor to The Grapes of Wrath. Several scenes from Steinbeck's Pulitzer winner seem to be foretold and expanded upon in In Dubious Battle. It is the story of members of the Communist Party, organizing a strike of fruit pickers in California. If you've read TGoW you'll quickly recognize many parallels—settings, characters that are virtually identical.In Dubious Battle wasn't The Grapes of Wrath though. It wasn't even Steinbeck. Something was missing in this one. Something very important.Steinbeck Checklist for In Dubious Battle:The Struggle of the Underdog: CheckPower of Friendship: CheckSnappy Dialogue: CheckDeath: CheckNew Life: CheckStory of Redemption: CheckHope Through Trials: CheckSymbolism Through Death of Animal: CheckRound, Interesting Characters: …It's unfortunate, because I hate to say that Steinbeck was ever wrong. What's missing is the characters. They're flat. I don't understand who Jim Nelson and Mac McLeod are or where they are coming from. There's story and action, but little character depth. Jim changes—I guess. It's a sudden transformation and it didn't make sense; throughout the whole novel he was just standing around bored, “Hi, my name's Jim. I want something to do.” And then the next thing, he's realizing that he is the only hope for humanity—and that he is within the Matrix. Seriously, it would be the perfect role for Keanu Reeves. Obviously, I didn't care about Jim or Mac. I sort of liked the London character, but only because he was a very likable guy. I'd invite him to a get together and shoot the breeze with him. But he was just as stiff as the others—a trio of cardboard cutouts.Sometimes the dialogue was typical Steinbeck. But sometimes it really reflected the flatness of the characters. There was quite a bit of telling, one character relaying information to another character that should already know. At times the dialogue was snappy. Other times it seemed phony.All that being said, I still liked reading In Dubious Battle, but mostly because I saw The Grapes of Wrath in it. It was sort of like meeting the mentor who influenced your hero. I'm glad Steinbeck got it right the second time around.