When I read Hemingway I search for Hemingway’s struggle as a writer, but when I read Steinbeck I am interested in the way he told stories. What a story teller he was . . . so real and true and attentive to the nature of human beings. No rose colored glasses, just life, in Cannery Row. Steinbeck entertains by re-telling obscure details or facts or discovering information. This passage is just interesting: “Two generations of Americans knew more about the Ford coil than the clitoris, about the planetary system of gears than the solar system of stars.” Descriptions are poignant and blunt—Doc stopped at a “big Chicken-in-the-Rough place he knew about.” And he had a beer milkshake along the way.
Cannery Row is a series of chapters and some have nothing at all to do with the story. In the end they all make up the story that is Doc's story, although each chapter is from a different perspective and not always Doc’s. What was the point of all these lives disconnected but intertwined together on Cannery Row, which was a real place Steinbeck knew well?
Doc, like Steinbeck, loves people. He says of the boys “’They could get it . . . they could ruin their lives and make money. Mack has qualities of genius. They’re all very clever if they want something. They just know the nature of things too well to be caught in the wanting." By showing us all these ways of being alive, the writer wove a tapestry that is true to how we live life. Steinbeck's message was that life is real and good and made to be lived fully. Doc says, “Even now, I know that I have savored the hot taste of life lifting green cups and gold at the great feast. Just for a small and a forgotten time I have had full in my eyes from off my girl the whitest pouring of eternal light."
Can anyone but Steinbeck write like that? Hemingway would have thought Steinbeck didn't state things simply enough and Steinbeck would say that Hemingway sure knew how to make life's complications dark.