Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
5 out of 5 stars
My Steinbeck summer has ended with a bang, and not the bad kind like in Of Mice & Men lol. Sweet Thursday enchanted me just as much as its predecessor, Cannery Row. I have decided that it is the combination of Steinbeck's way with words plus the characters of Cannery Row that make me so happy. Before I get into my gushing review though, I want to talk about the physical book. Ever since I read Cannery Row and found out there was a sequel, I've been looking for it at Half Price, Barnes & Noble, the library, everything and was unable to find it. I finally gave in and ordered it on Amazon, the cheapest one I could find, and did my fancy Prime Shipping and got it in one day. (That was totally awesome btw.)
My copy is from 1963 (if I'm reading the copyright correctly lol), and the original cost was .75¢. The cover is that bright orange with the cool line drawing and the pages are thick. Like, I had to constantly check that I wasn't turning two pages instead of one. And it smells like an old book. You know you smell your books sometimes, don't look at me like I'm crazy. Until the Kindle comes with a scratch n' sniff feature, I'm going to stick with my physical books for the most part. ;)
The beauty of this book is its simplicity: it's a story about normal men and women living a normal life. There's nothing special about the town or the time. It's like reading a story about your family. You know that one crazy uncle that always gets drunk and throws raucous parties but has the best of intentions? That's Mack & the boys. Or your grandfather who could go on for days about the intricacies of octopi and how they are highly emotional animals and sometimes they get so mad they collapse and die of something that parallels apoplexy. Well, that's Doc. And that sister that runs the local whorehouse and does astrology on the side? Okay, we don't talk about her (hah!) but that's Fauna. There's just something comforting about having an uncomplicated (I almost put noncomplicated oops) book that you can read and enjoy and then be done. It's not a series of 15 books, it doesn't make you depressed for days after reading it but leaves you feeling good about life for once.
Sweet Thursday is set a few years after Cannery Row and right after World War II. Doc is back from the war and is a bit disenchanted with life, which is understandable. He feels like he should be doing something important with his life or something is missing, but he doesn't know what. As he wanders around aimlessly, his friends get a little worried, since he is the moral backbone of Monterey. And if he can't live a full and rich life, what chance do they have? So of course, Mack and the boys decide to do something about it. I think Mack's intentions were even more honorable here than in the first book. He really and truly wanted to help his friend. And what's the best way to help a friend who's feeling down and forbade you to give him any more parties? Find him a dame.
Well, I remember this girl. I am not whole without her. I am not alive without her. When she was with me I was more alive than I have ever been, and not only when she was pleasant either. Even when we were fighting I was whole.
That's what Mack sets out to do, with a little help from Fauna (matchmaker to working gals since 19 diggity two) and Hazel (one of the "boys", a little slow on the uptake, but destined to be president according to Fauna's charts). Hijinks ensue, as is always the case when Mack is involved, and we get taken along for the ride.
There were a few stand-out parts for me that didn't necessarily have anything to do with the central plot. The first was a chapter about a neighboring town where a friendly roque (similar to croquet, played on a hard, smooth surface) competition between senior citizens somehow turned into a race/gang war. The two teams (Green and Blue) became super competitive and suddenly didn't want to talk to each other, wouldn't allow their kids to "intermingle", built separate churches. It all came to a terrifying end when a Green was clubbed to death with a mallet. Yeah.
There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn't necessarily a lie even if it didn't necessarily happen.
Let's do a good thing now to get rid of that ugliness, okay? Fauna is trying to make one of her girls, Suzy, realize she is worth something and tells her to say these lines out loud: I'm Suzy and nobody else. I'm a good thing. There ain't nothing like me in the whole world. Aw. :) Fauna also gives Suzy some wise rules to getting a man, such as no cussing, listen and ask questions, let them do nice things for you, think before you speak, and don't get in fights. That Fauna is a smart lady.
I know you're probably wondering if Doc gets over his funk or finds a dame. Well, I'm not telling you lol. You'll just have to read it and find out! I will tell you though, this story does end happy. No one gets shot in the back of the head or tries to commit suicide or gets stung by a scorpion or has to kill his beloved pony. :'( Nope, things are good on Cannery Row. Sweet Thursday was one hell of a day.