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Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Cannery Row (original 1945; edition 1993)

by John Steinbeck

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6,728123554 (4.04)1 / 595
Title:Cannery Row
Authors:John Steinbeck
Info:Penguin Books (1993), Edition: 5th, Mass Market Paperback, 208 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:historical fiction, United States of America, friendship

Work details

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (1945)

Recently added byprivate library, pam43, LisaT68, margottish, beckfieldcollege, sandrikoti, rnbwpnt, mdsonnta, tmmeyer
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Cannery Row has a simple premise: Mack and his friends are trying to do something nice for their friend Doc. Mack hits on the idea that they should throw a party, and the entire community rapidly becomes involved. Unfortunately, the party rages out of control, ruining Doc's lab and home. In an effort to return to Doc's good graces, Mack and the boys decide to throw another party - but to make it work this time. A collection of linked vignettes describe the lives of the locals and the collective life of Cannery Row.

Cannery Row also encompasses many subplots in between the main plot of the novel.

Steinbeck revisited these characters and this setting nine years later, in his novel Sweet Thursday.

[edit] Characters

[edit] Lee Chong
Lee Chong is the shrewd Chinese owner and operator of the neighborhood grocery store known as "Lee Chong's Heavenly Flower Grocery." "The grocery opened at dawn and did not close until the last wandering vagrant dime had been spent or retired for the night. Not that Lee Chong was avaricious. He wasn't, but if one wanted to spend money, he was available." "No one is really sure whether Lee ever receives any of the money he is owed or if his wealth consisted entirely of unpaid debts, but he lives comfortably and does legitimate business in the Row."

[edit] Doc

Ed Ricketts lab at 800 Cannery Row, Monterey which was the basis for Docs marine LabDoc is a marine biologist who studies and collects sea creatures from all along the California coast. Most of these creatures are preserved in some way and are sent all over the country to universities, laboratories, and museums. "You can order anything living from Western Biological, and sooner or later you will get it." Doc is described as "deceptively small" with great strength and the potential for passionate anger. He wears a beard, very strange and unpopular at the time, and has great charisma. "Doc tips his hat to dogs as he drives by and the dogs look up and smile at him." Doc is also the smartest man in Cannery Row, interested in knowing something about everything. "Doc would listen to any kind of nonsense and change it for you to a kind of wisdom. His mind had no horizon," Steinbeck wrote. "Everyone who knew him was indebted to him. And everyone who thought of him thought next, 'I really must do something nice for Doc.'"

The character of Doc is based on Steinbeck's friend Ed Ricketts, to whom he also dedicated the novel. Ricketts is a noted marine biologist and was the one who got Steinbeck interested in the subject. Doc's Western Biological Laboratory is a reference to Rickett's real Pacific Biological Laboratories, which stood at 800 Cannery Row from 1928 to 1948.

[edit] Dora Flood
Owner and operator of the Bear Flag Restaurant, Dora possesses a keen business mind as well as a strong spirit. Despite the fact that she runs a whorehouse, she exudes morality in all her practices - selling no hard liquor, keeping an honest price on the services of the house, and allowing no vulgarity to be spoken on the premises. Dora is also kind to those who have helped her, never turning out a girl too old or infirm to work: "some of them don't turn three tricks a month, but they go right on eating three meals a day." Being an illegal operation, Dora has to be "twice as law abiding" and "twice as philanthropic" as anyone else in Cannery Row. When the general donation for a policeman's ball is a dollar, Dora is asked for and gives 50. "With everything else it is the same, Red Cross, Community Chest, Boy Scouts, Dora's unsung, unpublicized dirty wages of sin lead the list of donations." During the darkest days of the Great Depression, Dora paid people's grocery bills and fed their children, very nearly going broke in the process. Dora runs a clean, respectable business that plays an important role in Cannery Row's ecosystem.

[edit] Mack
Mack, a 48-year-old man, described as "the elder, leader, mentor and to a small extent exploiter of a little group of men who had in common no families, no money, and no ambitions beyond food, drink and contentment. 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." Mack has few compunctions about lying, stealing, or swindling, but his intentions are generally good, so he is able to justify his actions and those of his friends as means to an end. It is said he is really smart and "Could be president if he wanted to be." He and his group of friends are known to all as "Mack and the boys" and spend a great deal of their time in an abandoned storage shed they christen "The Palace Flophouse and Grill."

[edit] Hazel
Hazel is a dim but good, strong, and loyal young man living with Mack and the boys in the Palace Flophouse. His name is feminine because his mother was tired when he was born (the eighth child in seven years) and named the baby after an aunt who was rumored to have life insurance. When she realized that Hazel was a boy she had already gotten used to the name and never changed it. Hazel "did four years of grammar school, four years of reform school, and didn't learn anything in either place." Hazel loves to listen to people's conversations and remembers everything he is told, but can hardly make sense of any of it.

[edit] Eddie
Another resident of the Palace. Eddie is a part-time bartender who supplies the boys with "hooch" poured off from whatever patrons leave in their glasses at Ida's Bar. "He kept a gallon jug under the bar and in the mouth of the jar was a funnel. Anything left in the glasses Eddie poured into the funnel before he washed the glasses... The resulting punch he took back to the Palace was always interesting and sometimes surprising. The mixture of rye, beer, bourbon, scotch, wine, rum and gin was fairly constant, but now and then some effete customer would order a stinger or an anisette or a curaçao and these little touches gave a distinct character to the punch."

[edit] Chinaman
The enigmatic figure of "The Chinaman" appears in the story several times. He walks quietly through the town, usually while the narrator is himself on the way down to the ocean. The Chinaman's association with the eternal sea reminds us that the fast-paced and hilarious adventures of the Cannery Row characters are merely ripples in the vast sweep of human experience.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
This book was boring. All I could manage was a chapter at a time, pretty much. Steinbeck has a way with words so it wasn't completely bad. The book just describes the setting and characters, there's no plot.

Mack and the boys are unemployed but clever, resourceful men who live in the Palace Flophouse in Monterey, California. And that's about it. ( )
  jenn88 | Feb 14, 2016 |
I love this side of Steinbeck; not tightly plotted, but short, finely-drawn, warm but ruthless character studies and tales of the down and out who've found a home in the canning district of Monterey. The kind of unassuming book that nevertheless has the potential to change the way you look at life and people...on to Sweet Thursday. ( )
  bibleblaster | Jan 23, 2016 |
Book on CD performed by Jerry Farden

Opening lines: 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 inhabitants 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 holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.

Well, who am I to argue with Steinbeck. And Cannery Row, the novel, shines a light through both those peepholes, showing us the flotsam and jetsam and the jewels of humanity, the “sons of bitches” and the “saints.” The novel is written in a series of vignettes about the residents of the area. Lee Chong, who runs the grocery where you can get just about anything you need – IF you have the money. A churlish businessman, he nevertheless occasionally performs acts of charity and gives a glimpse of a generous and compassionate heart. Mack and the boys are down-on-their-luck vagrants, living in a former storage shed they have named the Palace Flophouse. Working odd jobs only long enough to collect their meager earnings, they quickly spend what little they have on liquor and enjoy life. Dora Flood runs the Bear Flag Restaurant, which is a whore house and not a place to get a sandwich. She accepts that the price she pays for continuing in business is being extraordinarily philanthropic when it comes to contributing to the local Police Benevolent Society or latest Chamber of Commerce beautification project. But she is also quietly generous to the down-and-out families who need extra groceries or shoes for their children.

And then we have Doc, the marine biologist who runs Western Biological Laboratory, and lives in a back room there. Doc makes a living collecting and selling all manner of life forms to schools and universities and research scientists across the globe. He is a man of culture and science, however. He enjoys a wide variety of music and the residents of Cannery Row frequently hear the strains of Beethoven or Benny Goodman emanating from his record player. His library is equally eclectic, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, poetry, plays and novels. He leads a rather solitary life, but he is not without companionship, and he is a great friend to all the nearby residents. In fact they all like him so much they frequently are hit with a strong urge to “do something nice for Doc.”

The efforts of Mack and the boys to arrange a surprise party (or two) for Doc are the major plot points in this character study. There are some hilarious moments of misadventure and some very poignant scenes (especially concerning the young waif Frankie) that tug at the heart strings. I wish Steinbeck had made the book longer and delved deeper into Doc’s story. Why was he such a loner? Why couldn’t he accept the love expressed by others? Why does he run from the unpleasant or horrific? The more I think about the book the more I like it, but I have to say that when I first finished, my reaction was: “Is that all?” In fact, I was going to rate the book much lower, but as I write my review I find myself liking the book more. Still, I think this work fell short of the genius I’ve seen in other Steinbeck works.

Jerry Farden does a very good job voicing the audio version. He has good pacing and I could easily distinguish the many characters thanks to his skill as a voice artist.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. Its a Steinbeck, and considered a classic - so I was a bit apprehensive when I started this book. I shouldn't have been. Its an easy to read, but subtly deep book that is about the various people who live in Cannery row in Monterey, California.

These are people who are at the edge of society - just holding on, either because of their occupations (brothel owner) or they're situation (unemployed). Its a book of a community that trusts one another (up to a point) - that looks out for each other. The introduction of this book indicates that it is a book about lonely people, and it is, to a point, but I think its a book about the families you make.

There a few stereotypes - for example, the Chinese grocer. But, the character is written in a way that both emphasizes the stereotype, but than goes beyond, making the character a full person. Even minor characters in this book are fully developed. They are written with prose that fits with the story, but seems to point out that these characters are real and have a life of their own (example Mr. and Mrs. Malloy who discuss curtains choices in their former-boiler home.)

Steinbeck also manages to write about the ecosystem around the Monterey Bay - with Doc's expeditions and Mack's gang at frog hunting - it really is a beautiful description of the area.

Highly recommended if you like well written stories that are a slice of life type book. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Oct 24, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (43 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Steinbeck, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brugmans-Martens, L.I.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Farden, JerryNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frank, RudolfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shillinglaw, SusanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waechter, PhilipCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For ED RICKETTS who knows why or should
First words
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.
It has always seemed strange to me...The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Published in 1945, "Cannery Row" focuses on the acceptance of life as it is: both the exuberance of community and the loneliness of the individual. Drawing on his memories of the real inhabitants of Monterey, California, Steinbeck interweaves the stories of Doc, Henri, Mack and his boys, and the other characters in this world where only the fittest survive, to create a novel that is at once one of his most humorous and most poignant works.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014200068X, Paperback)

Unburdened by the material necessities of the more fortunate, the denizens of Cannery Row discover rewards unknown in more traditional society. Henry the painter sorts through junk lots for pieces of wood to incorporate into the boat he is building, while the girls from Dora Flood’s bordello venture out now and then to enjoy a bit of sunshine. Lee Chong stocks his grocery with almost anything a man could want, and Doc, a young marine biologist who ministers to sick puppies and unhappy souls, unexpectedly finds true love. Cannery Row is just a few blocks long, but the story it harbors is suffused with warmth, understanding, and a great fund of human values.

First published in 1945, Cannery Row focuses on the acceptance of life as it is—both the exuberance of community and the loneliness of the individual. John Steinbeck draws on his memories of the real inhabitants of Monterey, California, and interweaves their stories in this world where only the fittest survive—creating what is at once one of his most humorous and poignant works. In Cannery Row, John Steinbeck returns to the setting of Tortilla Flat to create another evocative portrait of life as it is lived by those who unabashedly put the highest value on the intangibles—human warmth, camaraderie, and love.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:43 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Vividly depicts the colorful, sometimes disreputable, inhabitants of a run-down area in Monterey, California.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

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2 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141185082, 0141045396, 024195245X

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