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Of Mice and Men (Steinbeck Centennial Edition) Paperback – Deckle Edge, January 8, 2002
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”Of Mice and Men is a thriller, a gripping tale running to novelette length that you will not set down until it is finished. It is more than that; but it is that. . . . In sure, raucous, vulgar Americanism, Steinbeck has touched the quick in his little story.”The New York Times
“Brutality and tenderness mingle in these strangely moving pages. . . . The reader is fascinated by a certainty of approaching doom.”Chicago Tribune
”A short tale of much power and beauty. Mr. Steinbeck has contributed a small masterpiece to the modern tough-tender school of American fiction.”Times Literary Supplement [London]
About the Author
John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California, in 1902, grew up in a fertile agricultural valley, about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree. During the next five years he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City, all the time working on his first novel, Cup of Gold (1929).
After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California books, The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), and worked on short stories later collected in The Long Valley (1938). Popular success and financial security came only with Tortilla Flat (1935), stories about Monterey’s paisanos. A ceaseless experimenter throughout his career, Steinbeck changed courses regularly. Three powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class: In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered by many his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The Grapes of Wrath won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.
Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker with The Forgotten Village (1941) and a serious student of marine biology with Sea of Cortez (1941). He devoted his services to the war, writing Bombs Away (1942) and the controversial play-novelette The Moon is Down (1942). Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1948), another experimental drama, Burning Bright (1950), and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951) preceded publication of the monumental East of Eden (1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family’s history.
The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. Later books include Sweet Thursday (1954), The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication (1957), Once There Was a War (1958), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962), America and Americans (1966), and the posthumously published Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters (1969), Viva Zapata! (1975), The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976), and Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath (1989).
Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, and, in 1964, he was presented with the United States Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Steinbeck died in New York in 1968. Today, more than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures.
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One of the beauties of this book is that there is nothing "abstract" about Steinbeck's heart-rendering depiction of two "drifters," Lenny and George, who move from farm to farm, as "casual" laborers, harboring dreams of being able to set just enough aside to get their own place, where they will be eternally happy. Seemingly an odd couple, Steinbeck describes a symbiotic relationship. Lenny is of barely functioning intellectual capacity, but has enormous strength. George is wiry, with the relative brains to take care of the two of them. The foreshadowing of ultimate doom occurs early, around the campfire along the river, as they discuss how they will act at the next farm, with George doing the talking.
At the farm, a small group of other characters is revealed. Perhaps the most interesting is Crooks, the only Black in the group, who endures the segregation and second class status due to his skin color that was all too prevalent as an "acceptable fact" during the 1930's. Curley is ugly and vicious, and very insecure, having married a "tart," who still harbors her lost opportunities of making in big in the pictures. She taunts virtually all the men with her sexuality. Slim is the straw boss, and seems to fulfill that role admirably. And the amusements and diversions of migrant men are also depicted, in the trips into town when the work is done, and all the hard-earned money is frittered away on an evening's pleasure. An thus those dreams of a place of one's own all too often remain only that.
Ah... the ending is a fulfillment of that initial "doom" that was forecast, like an ancient Greek play. Utterly unforgettable. Throughout this rather short book, Steinbeck proves a master at furnishing the details that develop the characters. Sparse, while maintaining high dramatic tension. 5-stars, plus.
Steinbeck's description of characters and nature is very simple and clean, especially of the other farm workers in the farm where Lennie and George are just arriving. It is a world of loners, like Candy who is injured and old but still looking for a place where he belongs, and Crooks who is a deformed black man who is ostracized by the other workers (and carries a lot of resentment for it) and buries himself in books.
There are quite a few underlying themes in the story, most of which question the value of life and dreams, especially as one is getting old or one's dreams seem to be fading away in a second. Lennie is caught in a situation where his great dream to tend rabbits in their land is shattered by an encounter with the wife of the farm owner's son that gets out of hand, and so the story unfolds to its tragic ending.
The ending is exceptional, shoking and leaves one reconsidering the book for a while. The most impressive characteristic of the ending is the lack of change in style; Steinbeck continues its clean and direct prose and is able to construe a believable and meaningful ending in just a few pages.
I highly recommend this short novel, it is a little over 100 pages and you should be done with it in a 2-hour flight. It is a great intro to Steinbeck's writing style, which, along with The Pearl, in my opinion, makes a great combination of Steinbeck's short tragic stories.