A Piece of Steinbeck

June 14, 2012 at 7:44 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Click on the Book Cover to visit the National Steinbeck Center website.

Title: Of Mice and Men

Author: John Steinbeck

Publisher: Penguin

Length: 103 pages

A friend asked me if Of Mice and Men was a good representation of Steinbeck’s work.  Not having read it, but being a die hard fan of East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath, I decided to sit down for an afternoon read.

Of Mice and Men was written as an experiment, so says the inside jacket of my beautiful Penguin Centennial Edition.  Steinbeck himself called it, “a kind of playable novel, written in novel form but so scened and set that it can be played as it stands.”  Its true, it is a playable novel.  And as complete as a lone standing novella, it could also be a brief chapter in a full length Steinbeck saga that I’ve grown to expect.

My favorites by Steinbeck are long sweeping story lines of depression, written with perfection, where Of Mice and Men is a short stint featuring a relationship between two men as one struggles with the lines between gentility and brute force.  When I think of Steinbeck, its for his onion layers of generational secrets, sins, and passions.  If given this in hand written form, not knowing what it was from, I think I would guess Steinbeck, but ask where the rest of the book is, thinking this was a bit of back story to something much more epic.  I wouldn’t call this a short representation of his work though, its so unique and different.  It feels more like a small little corner of his brain, a little tiny piece of the puzzle that makes up Steinbeck’s genius.

For starters, there’s much more dialogue than I usually see in Steinbeck’s pieces, true to the form of a play.  There are far less propelling descriptions that push you along a timeline, instead of equating my reading experience to a landscape often seen in those large European antiquarian homes and museums, I feel like I’m looking at one scene or portrait on an average sized canvas.  I wasn’t left with a deep sense of having been, step for step, in the same place the characters had walked, like I did with East of Eden.  I closed the book saddened at Lennie’s plight, but did not feel the overwhelming gush of reality being poured upon me by a starving man seeking nourishment from the breast milk of a woman who had just delivered a stillborn baby in a barn.

Steinbeck succeeded in his play-novel experiment, and its quite good – I feel like I’m watching a play.  But I don’t feel like I’m nose deep in story, reluctant to come up for air even to eat, or drink, or use the restroom; which is usually the case when I read Steinbeck.  Who do I recommend Of Mice and Men for?  Anyone attempting to guide their reading habits from one genre to another.  If you usually read novels and want to try plays, pick this up as a stepping stone.  If you are a theatre buff, actor, or director who usually reads plays or screenplays and are in the mood to get your literature on, Of Mice and Men would be a good starting point.  It would be a great crossover piece for younger literature students as they are led from one unit to the next, and I think I may use it as such for my daughter, an afternoon project.  Although, I wouldn’t spend more time than a afternoon on it, and I will probably never read it myself again.

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