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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Review: Sweet Thursday

Sweet Thursday - John Steinbeck, Robert DeMott

John Steinbeck found something funny in Monterey, California. The three novels he set in the city make up the author's three most recognized comedies (his only comedies, I believe, with the exception of the satirical ...Pippin IV). In Sweet Thursday, Steinbeck returns to the characters and setting of his earlier novel Cannery Row. Some of the Row's characters have moved on and others have moved in. If you've read Cannery Row or Steinbeck's first visit to Monterey, Tortilla Flat, then you're already aware of the type of story at hand.

 

Of the three, I enjoyed Sweet Thursday most. In part, I believe this is because of the style of comedy Steinbeck employs in Sweet Thursday. In his earlier novels, much of the hilarity relies on drunken antics. Sure, drunk people can do funny things, but you can only laugh at a village of drunken idiots so long before you begin to feel bad for them and the comedy loses its effect. In Sweet Thursday the laughs are more situational and character driven.

 

Another reason I think Sweet Thursday succeeded more in reaching me is due to the structure of the novel—it felt more like a complete novel. Although Steinbeck's earlier comedic attempts certainly had an overarching story, they descended into many vignettes that were entertaining, but took me out of the story. With Sweet Thursday the entire story centers on curing the loneliness that ails Doc. There's romance and sacrifice and only the occasional drunken moment. Lastly, Sweet Thursday seemed to me the most simple and profound of the three novels.

 

Given my dramatic nature, Steinbeck's more comedic novels could never take the place of greats like East of EdenThe Grapes of Wrath, or The Winter of Our Discontent, but I enjoyed my visits to Monterey nonetheless. And I wonder, what is Monterey, California, truly like?