This one was also not at all the kind of novel I was expecting from Steinbeck. It’s a portrait of the various layabouts, prostitutes, small-time criminals, bums and such that populate Cannery Row in Monterey. It’s an attempt by Steinbeck to capture a place that he loved and his affection shines through the book. But it’s really more of a comic novel than anything else. It isn’t just that it’s funny; it’s downright silly. The plot, to the degree there even is one, revolves around Doc, an old fixture of the Row; some of the denizens, led by a drunk thug named Mack, decide to show Doc how much they love him by throwing him a party. Said party goes downhill quickly and they end up essentially demolishing Doc’s living quarters. They then decide to make it up to him by . . . throwing him another party. But the book is really just a collection of vignettes. It’s rambling, loosely constructed and the least pretentious thing I’ve ever read by Steinbeck. That could be reason to love it or to hate it, depending on how much you like Steinbeck’s philosophical, symbolic writing. It’s appreciated here in the midst of this omnibus; the lighter touch and the comedy is appreciated as a break in the middle of the three other novels, all dire and doom-laden. Whether you find Mack and his crew endearingly silly or annoyingly stupid is all up to you, I’d say. Your mileage may vary. It’s a lesser Steinbeck by my lights, but it’s still worth a look as a curiosity. Go for it if it sounds interesting. Conditionally recommended. 3 stars.
tl;dr – Steinbeck conjures a series of often silly vignettes about the lower class of Cannery Row; not one of his best, but engaging and entertaining enough. 3 stars.