Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Spotlight #5: Of Mice and Men

"Of Mice and Men" 

By: John Steinbeck

Quote Highlight: "Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They belong no place... They ain't got nothing to look ahead to." - George

One of John Steinbeck's Great Depression era novellas. This is a rather short story following two close companions, George and Lennie. The two travel through 1930s California from town to town searching for field work on a ranch. They end up at a place run by the owner's son, Curley. The pay is $50 for a month of labor but they both dream of a day working on a field they own. As soon as the pair show up at the ranch, it's clear that this place might be trouble. Who they meet and what occurs on Curley's ranch is what you'll have to read to find out.

One striking aspect of the story is how far ahead of his time Steinbeck was with his portrayal of Lennie. A man with a severe mental disability, he can barely remember what his best friend George told him just an hour ago. Steinbeck takes us inside the mind of this physically giant but mentally small man. A man with a genuine heart who finds he can do no right in a world that provides little help. George is quick to tell him how great it would be if he could leave Lennie behind and stop caring for him. But George also has a soft spot for Lennie for his own reasons, and continues to look out for him. The reader is left to speculate how exactly Lennie came to be the way he is, I found myself attached to these two characters that Steinbeck introduces just briefly. It's intriguing to read the interactions that Lennie has with other characters throughout the book. The reader is able to get a quick glimpse of people's attitudes towards someone with a mental disability from the vantage point of the 1930s. I found myself wondering if people's attitudes towards someone like Lennie have improved over time? 

The reader will come across some familiar social themes of the time as well. Woven into the story is Crooks, the black stable hand. There is also only one woman in the novel, known simply as Curley's wife. Steinbeck does a fantastic job of allowing the story itself to unfold in a way that allows the reader to quite clearly understand the theme coming across. Yet, it doesn't dilute the quality of the plot, simply enhances the depth of it. The reader is left with a quick story that packs a lot of punch.

I leave off with a high recommendation for this novella. It's a quick read, running only 100 pages or so depending on the version you have. If some of Steinbeck's lengthier novels scare you away, start off with this one and see if you get hooked. After burning through 100 pages, you may find yourself wanting more... and that's a good thing.