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That book is Steinbeck's account of a road trip he took across America in with his French poodle. Steinbeck was 60 when it came out two years later,.


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Those who've been put off it by the received wisdom are missing one of 20th century American literature's sneakiest pleasures. Go ahead, pull it down and crack it open.

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Two million copies were once in print, there must be one handy somewhere. That's the highway he dubbed "the mother road" in "The Grapes of Wrath" -- a nickname that's lasted longer than the road did. So Steinbeck pulls off into Chicago and tries to claim his reserved room at the Ambassador East Hotel. He's tired.

Stolen Child

Check-in time isn't for hours. Finally, by threatening to conk out right in the lobby, Steinbeck cajoles the desk clerk into offering him a recently vacated room to snooze in before noon. And there, in a room that would deserve a plaque if only Steinbeck had disclosed its number, he makes the acquaintance of Lonesome Harry. Lonesome Harry is the nickname Steinbeck gives to the room's previous occupant, a business traveler whose detritus the chambermaid hasn't yet gotten around to cleaning up.

Steinbeck's curiosity just won't let him alone. He finds a scrap of hotel stationery on which Harry has practiced his signature, suggesting a certain lack of confidence. He finds a bobby pin, but no tissues with blotted lipstick, suggesting a visitor who didn't stay the night. He finds a vase of roses smelling of Jack Daniels , suggesting an unmistakable professionalism on the part of Harry's date.

And gradually, surely, using only these and a few other clues, Steinbeck comes to know Harry better than Harry's own wife back home does -- fortunately for Harry. The whole interlude clocks in at less than four pages, and it ends with this crushing paragraph:. First, I don't think he had any fun; second, I think he was really lonesome, maybe in a chronic state; and third, he didn't do a single thing that couldn't be predicted -- didn't break a glass or a mirror, committed no outrages, left no physical evidence of joy.

I had been hobbling around with one boot off finding out about Harry.

How John Steinbeck Crafts a Masterpiece

I even looked in the bed and in the closet. He hadn't even forgotten a tie. I felt sad about Harry. Steinbeck's putting on a clinic here. Taken together, they're an amazing few pages, a virtual master class in how a great writer uses all his senses to understand and convey a scene. It recalls those unforgettable moments in Poe's crime stories, where fiction's first detective notices a thread on his friend's coat or a spot on his shoe and proceeds to deduce the man's entire day up until that moment.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle later stole shamelessly from these scenes, but it took Steinbeck to invest them with a freshness of emotion that no amount of rereading can dilute. The knock on Steinbeck has always been that he's too emotional, too sentimental, his symbolism is so apparent that -- heaven forfend! As one of his biographers, the novelist Jay Parini , says of him, "Where he's weak is when he's a little too obvious.

In a work like 'The Pearl,' he used symbolism a little too obviously. His symbols sometimes clang.

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steinbeck remembered interviews with friends and acquaintances of john steinbeck Manual

But unlike every other American novelist capable of bad writing -- in other words, unlike everybody except Fitzgerald, who couldn't write badly on a bet Steinbeck gets judged on his worst work instead of his best. The man writes "The Grapes of Wrath," he writes the hysterically funny and romantic "Cannery Row" and "Sweet Thursday," he writes "Of Mice and Men," for crying out loud, and all we hear out of academia is, "Steinbeck? Good for what it is, I suppose. The worst offender here has to be the New York Times. If the Western United States ever declare open hostilities against the East, what the New York Times did to Steinbeck in December will have to rank at or near the top among our articles of war.

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A Literary Life

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