My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I rarely say this, but this book is damn near perfect.
When I was in my second year of my Master's Work, I read The Grapes of Wrath, also by Steinbeck, and I loved it. Dark, some times funny, more often times scathing, and intercut with scenes of animals literally crossing the road acting as nice metaphors for people trying to "make it" in the the real world. I love it.
I kept a bit of distance, though, from Steinbeck because a lot of my favorite author's have left me flat with other, less-canonical or popular books (Palahniuk being my go-to example for this phenomenon). Even Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown tainted my opinion of Rushdie, which until that point, had been just short of fanaticism (see my review of the above mentioned novel here).
I have been really interested in both Of Mice and Men and Travels with Charley for some time, but I was afraid of ruining my Grapes of Wrath buzz, but when some kids I am tutoring were assigned this book, I took the opportunity to read it. And this was a good choice.
Like a lot of Steinbeck, this book is about the attainability of the American dream (note: there might be some spoilers in this review, so tread carefully; that said, my edition was 107 pages long, so it might be easier just to read the book first, and the return to the review to agree with me then). Having written and lived through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, Steinbeck is, obviously, a little cynical when discussing the dream of land ownership and ability of a person to be his own master. Instead, Steinbeck's characters, all of them, are trapped in a system that is not set up for people to succeed (Candy being the obvious example of this institutionalized culture of failure and dependency).
This does not make for a happy story, and if this is being read for some light, summery entertainment, I would suggest another book. The ending, which I will not spoil here, is the only possible way to play out the circumstances, and everyone can see it coming (the reader, George, the others on the Ranch...everyone but Lenny). Again, like with Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck is not afraid to dissuade the reader from the preconceived and naive notion that everything will work out well in the end if people just work hard and keep their heads down. Some people, as Steinbeck argues, are just not capable of making it in this world. And there is only one solution for these people. Maybe that does spoil it, but whatever.
This book is poignant, particularly for the struggles America is currently in, and if it's been awhile since last you took it on, give yourself the afternoon and burn through this very excellent novella.
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