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"Fttt" and the Comments of his Human Companion,
This review is from: Travels with Charley: In Search of America (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Steinbeck clearly thought at the time he was writing The Winter of Our Discontent (1961) that America was in the middle of a serious moral and ethical crises, that the traditions and values this country was founded upon were no longer looked upon as serious guidelines for American behavior. The trip across America detailed in this book was undertaken at least in part as an attempt by Steinbeck to determine if this evaluation of the state of America was valid, if when Americans were approached as individuals, face-to-face, some other picture might emerge.
To facilitate his investigation, Steinbeck brought along his poodle Charley, as companion and ice-breaker, and packed up a camper truck with everything he thought he might need in his travels (probably too much, as he ruefully admits at one point), and proceed to travel across the states in a large circle, from New York to Maine to Illinois to Washington, California, Texas, and the Deep South.
As we travel along with him, we are treated to a rather incredible display of the sheer writing talent that Steinbeck possessed, as the people he meets along the way are described accurately and so very concisely, sometimes in just a couple of paragraphs, to where these people come alive to the reader, to where the reader can say "I know someone just like that".
But perhaps more importantly, the book is spattered throughout with Steinbeck's acute observations and opinions on everything from antiques, the virtues of small towns, the value of manual labor, the homogenizing of American language and cuisine due to the influence of radio and television, the beginnings of the interstate system and its influence on everything along its routes, hunters, trash, and many other items, all carefully supported by his actual observations along the road. There are a few comments expressed by Charley here, too (typically a "Fttt" and a sniff). And although this book was written forty years ago, much of what Steinbeck wrote then is still very valid today. Whether this represents a good thing or not, that there has been so little change in some very basic elements of American society in the intervening years, must be decided and thought upon by the reader.
It seems that many writers of stature eventually write some form of 'travel' book. This is one of the best of this genre, due to both Steinbeck's great powers of observation and his ability to distill what he sees to something that is recognizable, distinctive, that resonates with the reader's own experiences. This is not his greatest book - that distinction belongs to his great fiction works of The Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl, East of Eden, The Winter of Our Discontent. But it is a very satisfying look at a great writer and his outlook on the America of his day.
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Initial post: 21 Apr 2009 10:55:06 BDT
Mrs. Elisabeth M. Lewis says:
Reading the comments on the unchanging attitudes of America today from l962 - Could it be possible that with the election of Barack Obama as president much of the intense hatred of black Americans has disappeared or at least moderated. We live in hope.
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