I hate this book. It's sad, it's depressing, it's basically pointless. I read it in high school and hated it, and when I re-read it this week, I hated it even more. I have come to the conclusion that Steinbeck was an unhappy man, and that he enjoyed being so. He seems to have delighted in creating miserable characters, sticking them in hopeless situations, and then watching them squirm. This strikes me as cruel. He deliberately creates worlds where the only choices are bad ones, where kindness and innocence are stomped upon, where there is no possibility for a change for the better. That is not good writing -- in fact, it smacks of laziness. I recently read a wonderful blog post called "Why the Hunger Games Needs Yellow Boots," and I have concluded that John Steinbeck's books needed yellow boots. This one certainly did.
Of Mice and Men is about two drifting farm hands, George and Lennie, during America's Great Depression. They get work on a ranch baling alfalfa, and George tries to keep the others there from learning about the trouble Lennie has gotten into in the past. Lennie is feeble-minded, but a brutishly strong giant. He loves soft things, like mice and puppies, but has a tendency to accidentally kill them. Nothing good can possibly happen in this book, there is no uplifting lesson to be learned, and all told, I find it dreadful.
There is only one reason why I re-read this book, and why I read it all the way through to the end instead of chucking it back in the library bag after a few pages. That reason is named Sawyer.
|(Josh Holloway as James "Sawyer" Ford on Lost)|
Yes, I re-read a book I hate because of how much I love a fictional character. I'm a sad, strange little woman, I expect. But it's the truth. Sawyer reads the book while in prison during one of Lost's flashback sequences, and the book itself is referenced or discussed several times throughout the show. One of these years, I'm going to embark on a quest to read all the books that Sawyer reads throughout the series, but I'm not really feeling up to that yet.
Anyway, at one point in the show, Sawyer said that his favorite author is Steinbeck, and while he may have been lying (Sawyer is a consummate liar, after all), I take that statement at face value because I find it revelatory. From what I know about Steinbeck's novels, they are about miserable, lonely, dysfunctional people. What would draw a character I love so much to books like that? Well, possibly the fact that he himself is miserable, lonely, and dysfunctional, for starters.
As I read this, I kept trying to imagine Sawyer reading it. In prison, isolated not by choice this time. Would he have identified with George, the drifter trying to protect and care for the simpleminded giant, Lennie? At the time, I think he would have scoffed at George for being soft, for making the mistake of letting himself care about someone who could do nothing for him. But I like to think that, subconsciously, Sawyer would have understood, maybe even wished for a devoted friend.
Later, on the island, I see echoes of George and Lennie in the way Sawyer interacts with Hurley. Hurley, like Lennie, is large physically, but almost childlike in his kindness and innocence. He is just about the only character who is nice to Sawyer throughout the first season. Sawyer, like George, repeatedly says hurtful things to his only friend, then feels kinda sorta bad about it. Sawyer, like George, is a drifter, a dreamer, and a pragmatist. But unlike George, Sawyer has options. There are plenty of yellow boots on the island. Again and again, Sawyer has opportunities to grow, to change, to make good decisions or bad, to learn.
I can see why Sawyer the con artist might have been drawn to Steinbeck's books. I hope that later in life, though, he saw them for the contrived exercises in misery I find them to be, and found a new favorite author. Even Dickens would be a more cheerful choice.
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for lots of bad language, discussions of whorehouses, and innuendo.
This is my 24th book read and reviewed for the Classics Club.