Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: Of Mice and Men

I've heard about John Steinbeck for a while, but I've never read any of his stuff. A writer friend recommended him recently, so I finally picked up Of Mice and Men to give it a read.

Steinbeck. ZOMG Steinbeck. Where to start...

Picture a birthday cake. Standard kids-fare, birthday-party type stuff. This is a typical book. Not bad, neat to eat, but nothing to write home about. Steinbeck, or Mice and Men at least, is a rich, thick, heavy slice of pound cake or something like. You don't eat it, you savor it. For quite a while.

Steinbeck's descriptions are rich. I can't describe them as dripping (or oozing), since that sounds messy. They're not. He takes time to describe things that clearly have no significance to the story, but they only add to the weight of it. These extra descriptions lend an effect similar to what's described by the term "lazy sunday afternoon", but without the literal "lazy". I finally begin (and only, remotely, crudely begin) to understand what's meant by terms like "more real than real".

My biggest (Biggest, Ha! As if I had more than one! As if I could have more than one!) complaint about Of Mice and Men is that it's too good. Stories, most often in the form of books, are a prime source of entertainment for me, you see. I had brought Mice and Men along with me, in case I had occasion to read something; but I had forgotten that when I was last reading it, I had needed to stop in the middle of a chapter. When I picked it up again, I discovered that I was rather near to the end of the chapter when I stopped last, and so I was done with that chapter rather quickly. Far, far more quickly than I would have preferred, for I discovered that I could not start the next chapter. I had to digest what I had just read before I could continue on to the next chapter.
I did not manage to make any more progress on the book that day.

I also slowly, slightly, somewhat begin to understand the stereotypical english-teacher obsession with what things symbolize. The characters have a plan to get their own bit of land, you see. One of them, a rather less-intelligent fellow (I was trying to describe how he's really dim, but doesn't sound like it, and then I realized that he's childlike), is rather obsessed with it.

In the last chapter, this fellow gets killed. It had to happen; much as I try to think of a way around it, it couldn't not happen. This character is rather critical to their plan for getting their own piece of land, though. I realized, a while after finishing the book proper and in the loose, casual, unconnected way brains have of working; that his death symbolized -- well, maybe not so much symbolized as is symbolically equivalent to -- the death of hope that was hinted at a few chapters previously.

Final Verdict: Copy Please much? This is an excellent, rich, engrossing book. I am proud to have read it; not in a "bragging-rights" proud but a "self-contented" proud way that I suspect only other people who have read it will fully understand.

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