Following my recent first-time forays into Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Updike, why not check out some Steinbeck? Particularly what I believe to be the shortest of his novels, Of Mice and Men.
I’ve read reviews of Steinbeck’s work, and I never doubted his ability to write, particularly about the struggles of early twentieth-century migrant workers in the western United States. But with my short attention span, I didn’t think I could make my way through any of his longer works, and having never read Of Mice and Men or seen any theatrical or film adaptations of it, when I realized it was only 107 (small) pages, I thought I’d give it a shot. One of the best investments of my reading energy ever.
Steinbeck truly knows how to tell a story. And this story, of the diminutive George Milton and his oversized-but-slow partner Lennie Small, was so moving and heartbreaking that I couldn’t believe it was told in so few words.
I actually thought I knew what this story was about, but once I was a little ways in, I realized that my only points of reference were Lennie from L.A. Law and the sideways references from Bugs Bunny cartoons (all the references to bunny rabbits and George). And so I learned that I didn’t really know anything.
Steinbeck’s ability to relay the tale of this unlikely pair’s time together, and to make you believe that they both needed one another despite their obvious differences, was effortless. And his ability to develop characters in so few words was astounding. Curley (and his wife), Carlson, Slim, Candy, and Whit (not to mention George and Lennie), and even the metaphorical story of Candy’s dog were described with such precision that I felt like I was there.
If you haven’t read this one, you really need to. Heartbreaking, but not worthlessly so.