After lunch Joe Elegant read Fauna his latest chapter. He explained the myth and the symbol.
“You see,” he said “the grandmother stands for guilt.”
“Ain’t she dead and buried?”
“That’s a kind of a messy guilt”.
“It’s the reality below reality,” said Joe Elegant.
“Balls!” said Fauna.
Set in Monterey on the California coast after World War Two, Sweet Thursday catches up with the main characters of Steinbeck’s earlier novel Cannery Row written and set in Monterey fifteen years earlier. No fear. You don’t have to have to have read Cannery Row to enjoy this minor classic.
The harbourside community in Sweet Thursday lives amidst a dilapidated industrial site in Monterey, on the edge of the Pacific, that’s just holding itself together as the prosperity of the American Dream passes a long way by. The Cannery has been shut down but the weedy lots, junk heaps and lovable underworld are all still intact.
Doc returns to his neglected Western Biological Laboratories after serving in the army and, with uncanny prescience about the environmental dangers of exploding British-American oil rigs, busies himself collecting marine specimens to study. The local gang, Mack, Hazel and the Boys, are still drinking and passing time in the Palace Flophouse while others have moved on or died in the war.
Fauna is the new Madame at the local brothel, The Bear Flag Restaurant, so the girls now have to study etiquette and posture in their downtime.But the latest Bear Flag addition, Suzy, isn’t working out. Fauna plots to throw her into the arms of an unwitting Doc and enlists the well-intentioned but haphazard help of Mack and the Boys.
Sweet Thursday is set in Steinbeck country, the tough world of migrant workers in the US during and after the Great Depression. But while Steinbeck’s commitment to social realism and his skill at conveying the humanity of his characters are usually the building blocks of weightier artistic works, here those same skills are in the employment of telling a smart and funny love story – one made more affecting for the authenticity of the characters and the laconic narration. (That genuine feeling is probably due to Doc supposedly being based on Steinbeck’s life-long friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts.)
‘What is Sweet Thursday? Sweet Thursday is when good people have to scratch together some hope in tough times. Sweet Thursday is what they call the day after Lousy Wednesday, which is one of those days that’s just naturally bad. But Sweet Thursday is sunny and clear, a day when anything can happen.’
In 1960 Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn wrote and recorded Suite Thursday, dedicating it to John Steinbeck.
– Toby Buck