Steinbeck Tour: Sweet Thursday

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sweet Thursday
by John Steinbeck

Sweet Thursday is the sequel to Cannery Row, one of my favorite of Steinbeck’s books. I’ve read the epic masterpieces, like East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath. I’ve read the shorter morality tales, like Of Mice and Men and The Pearl. Yet after all of those brilliant works, my favorites remain his road trip memoir, Travels with Charley, and Cannery Row. I may get more depth and inner turmoil from his other works, but these are the ones I relate, the ones I want to return to.

Sweet Thursday quickly made its way to that top bracket as I read it. Steinbeck takes us back to Cannery Row and all of our favorite characters. We return shortly after the end of World War II and learn that Doc has been away, serving his country and Mack has been holding down the fort. The grocer, Lee Chong, is long gone and there are some new characters in the town.

Steinbeck gives us some of my favorite literary characters in this book. Doc, Mack and the others won a place in our hearts in Cannery Row, but the new additions are just as wonderful. There’s a selfish con artist named Old Jingleballicks and a Mexican man who runs the grocery store named Joseph and Mary (often referred to as J and M). Suzy, a young woman looking for guidance, provides a unique spark to the story. Her transformation throughout the book is one of the most rewarding I’ve read, because you can’t help but root for her.


I loved that Steinbeck didn’t throw Doc and Suzy together immediately. It felt so right that Suzy had a chance to get her life together before ending up with him. She needed to find her own balance and believe in herself before committing to another person. Once she had a room of her own, she finally had pride in herself and once she had that, she had something to offer someone else.


Of course, you can’t forget Hazel, one of Steinbeck’s greatest creations. He’s naïve and sweet, and devoted to his friends. When he’s in trouble or being taken advantage of, his friends step up and we see the best in everyone around him as they protect their friend. Hazel becomes a key player in this novel. He’s put to the test as he tries to work out the best way to help Doc, the man he admires so much.

One of my favorite chapters is called “One Night of Love,” which chronicles Suzy and Doc’s first date. The two couldn’t be more different, but there’s an unexpected sweetness that we witness when they both let their guards down. That private moment is beautiful.

Sweet Thursday was everything I hoped it would be. It’s touching, funny and profound in an unexplainably simple way. It makes you wish you lived on Cannery Row and could share a beer with Doc and his friends. It reminds you of the goodness the lies within every person and the fact that sometimes you just need the right situation to bring it out.

“I love true things,” said Doc. “Even when they hurt. Isn’t it better to know the truth about oneself?”

“S-l-o-w-ness it gave meaning to everything. It made everything royal.”

“No one knows how greatness comes to a man. It may lie in his blackness, sleeping, or it may lance into him like those driven fiery particles from outer space. These things, however, are known about greatness: need gives it life and puts it in action; it never comes without pain; it leaves a man changed, chastened, and exalted at the same time – he can never return to simplicity.”

I read this as part of the Steinbeck Classic Circuit Tour.


Kristi said...

Having just finished Cannery Row, I have to read this. It sounds great! I didn't realize there was a sequel. I'm glad there is more of Hazel in this book. He was an interesting character that there wasn't much about in Cannery Row.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I love Steinbeck and this one sounds terrific.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I think I may have read Of Mice and Men in high school, but my recent experience with East of Eden has made me realize I need to expand my horizons a bit! He is one incredible writer.

Teresa said...

Cannery Row was one of the other books Jenny and I considered reading for the Circuit. I'm glad we went with Travels with Charley because it was delightful (and I see it's one of your favorites), but I do want to try Cannery Row and this sequel at some point.

Jason C. said...

Woah. I had no idea there was a sequel to Cannery Row and need to read this one immediately. Steinbeck is the freakin' bomb.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kristi - I read your Cannery review, you'll love this one!

Diane - It's wonderful. It's made me look forward to reading even more of his work.

Sandy - He really is. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on that one.

Teresa - I love your Travels review. That's such a wonderful book.

Jason C. - Yes he is, read immediately!

Rebecca Reid said...

I LOVE EAST of Eden. I'm looking forward to reading some of Steinbeck's more light stories. These sound like fun.

Allie said...

I just wrote on Kristi's post that I bought three books by Steinbeck today, and Cannery Row was one of them. I'll have to make sure that when I finally read that one, I read this one next. :) It just sounds so lovely (like all of his work).

Bybee said...

I've read a lot of Steinbeck...he's one of my crushes...but never Cannery Row. It's on my TBR. Must check it out & also Sweet Thursday. Thanks for your review!

Shelley said...

Another "must-read" to add to my growing Steinbeck list! I used to have a T-shirt that listed all of his works (it kind of looked like a concert tee) and it was quite a long list. This circuit is helping me to prioritize!

Karen K. said...

I haven't read this one yet but I loved Cannery Row, so I really must move it up on the TBR list! Most people don't realize how funny Steinbeck can be.

BookQuoter said...

More books to add to my pile!! Grapes of Wrath is next on my list to read. I am so behind.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Rebecca Reid - There's something to be said for his lighter works.

Allie - It really is wonderful.

Bybee - It's not one you hear much about, but it's so great.

Shelley - Oh my gosh, I want that T-shirt!

Karen K. - If you loved Cannery Row, you definitely have to read this!

BookQuoter - That's a powerful one!

JaneGS said...

So glad you enjoyed this book--I also reviewed it along with Cannery Row because they are my favorite Steinbecks. Sweet, true, and touching--elegant and earthy at the same time.

Hazel is my favorite :)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

JaneGS - Hazel really is wonderful. His naïveté makes him both sweet and sincere.

Captain Nick Sparrow said...

I just got this book from my secret santa last year, so I plan to reread Cannery Row first. Good to know you liked it!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Captain - Enjoy! I think you'll really like it.