Let’s just say John Steinbeck and I have never gotten along all that well. I first watched The Grapes of Wrath for my film class in 12th grade (might have been 11th…it’s starting to blur already). While I knew Henry Fonda was impressive, the movie itself just left me kind of “eh.” It wasn’t a subject matter I was all the interested in and the hero was less than endearing. So why, a couple of summers later, I decided to read The Grapes of Wrath is beyond me. This was back before I’d learned it was OK to walk away from a book if I just wasn’t clicking with it. So I fought, struggled and screamed my way through The Grapes of Wrath and I’m not sure I can tell you all that much about it. I think I remember the movie better which should tell you something right there. So, as you can see, Steinbeck and I have a rocky history. So much so I have avoided Of Mice and Men ever since.
Which was a shame because someone, somewhere along the way, should have told me how cool it was technically speaking. As I started reading, I immediately understood what I was seeing, he was setting a scene, taking painstaking care to make sure I saw the scene itself before he introduced me to a single character. It was a play in novel form. I was fascinated. George and Lennie enter stage left and the action begins. It is by far the easiest novel I have ever read to visualize in my mind, how one could take the novel itself and create a stage set, hire actors and the words were already there in their mouths from the text of the novel. I was entranced.
The story itself is simple; the complexity being put into the format of the novel easily eclipses it. Yet, I know, in the hands of the right actors, Lennie would break my heart, George would bring tears to my eyes and I would want to throttle Curley myself on their behalf. It was, pun intended, a novel experience. I have never much cared for reading plays. I found it hard to visualize how one might stage a certain act or how a scene might play out in front of my eyes. I had no such problem with Of Mice and Men because of the unique combination of genres. Where a play might leave me with less detail, the novel fills in the blanks. Where I might wonder about how an actor would react, Steinbeck has given you just enough information to understand the environment these players move in, enough to make you understand why George has to pull the trigger in the end.
While it was not my favorite book, the English major in me had a major geek-out while reading this stunning novel/play. Perhaps Mr. Steinbeck and I should be back on speaking terms at least.