Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Clothes Have No King

... again. Every now and then I read someone saying things I've long thought, but never had the nerve to say. Usually because I was aware I lacked the academic clout to be taken seriously in saying them, should anyone challenge me. So I wait for someone else to point it out and then jump on the bandwagon. It's petty but to be human is a petty business anyhow.

So here's such a case:

A decade and a half ago, when I reviewed the first volume of the Library of America's Steinbeck edition (the fourth and last volume has just been published), which contains the first five of his books, I was struck, upon rereading, by "the solemnity, the sentimentality, the heavy-handed irony, the humorlessness, the labored colloquialisms, the clumsiness, the political naivete" that I found in them, but I was also reminded of what had drawn me to him when I was young: "his powerfully sympathetic portraits of American farm workers and ... the vision of social justice with which his work is imbued." Now, with Second Reading well into its sixth year and with a number of readers asking whether Steinbeck would be included in the series, seems a good time to take another look.

It gets worse. Personally I prefer the Warner Bros. cartoon parody of "Mice and Men" to the original. And "The Red Pony" is just icky. "Grapes of Wrath" is meanness writ large. I get the damn point already. It's no more literature than G.B. Shaw is drama.