The novel concerns marine biologist Doc and his group of friends: the madam of the local bordello; the grocer; and, a group of itinerant men known as 'the boys' who occasionally work in the canneries.
It is a story of community and, Smokler writes, was Steinbeck's way of reliving his early life in California with his own group of friends. Steinbeck, already wealthy and famous, was in his forties when he wrote this, his twelfth novel.
He wrote Cannery Row out of longing for the place that held part of his youth, now gone.
...of places where special things happen and memories dwell, of everyone around you knowing and looking after you, of nothing mattering outside your circle of friends.
I recently picked up a paperback copy of Cannery Row from the library sale table. I think I paid 50 cents for it. It sits here in a stack by my reading chair. It may be time I revisited Doc and his world.
Here is its opening line:
"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream."
It is that nostalgia, that dream, that Steinbeck was hungering for.