23 August 2010

'Tortilla Flat' Book Review

This is from a collection of John Steinbeck's shorter works, and so has no blurb. This is the first in that collection, and, besides this, the only other of Steinbeck's work I have read is 'The Grapes of Wrath,' which I reviewed for English class, and might type up at some point (incidentally, have you heard of a teacher that gets mad at you for typing something? Got told off and as a result don't type my English stuff anymore).
So, even though I have only read two of Steinbeck's novels (short or otherwise), he is one of my favourite authors. His characters are so three-dimensional, they really are alive, and that is what I love about him. I see him as a modern Shakespeare, because I foresee people reading his work for a long time to come, and that is all down to his characters. Shakespeare and Steinbeck both completely understand the "human condition," and no matter the year it is set, nor the time it was written, everyone can see themselves in their characters.
Back to 'Tortilla Flat' in particular then. As with 'The Grapes of Wrath,' the journey is of the characters, not the plot. At the beginning, I really felt very little sympathy for any of the characters, seeing them as thieves. But slowly I began to see them, and to hold them in contempt would be to hold humanity in contempt.
It was a case of them evolving, but it was more than that, and I've said this before though I don't know what about, it was the reader's mind evolving, the characters simply being revealed layer by layer.
The voice throughout was great; familiar and lofty at the same time, and easy to believe originated anywhere you wished it to, a fellow of your own kind.
Can you blame me too much for not saying much about the plot or specific characters? Only Steinbeck's work is not like that for me, it is like a mirror and a blender and no matter who you are you will see you and all your neighbours there, mashed up in one or three characters and so they cease to become those characters but become all of you, and so it is more like reading about you and your mother and your friend than any one else. So why would I say much about it, when I know it is different to what you will see? And the plot is not relevant next to the characters, without them you have nothing.
In all honesty, I would say I am still sort of digesting it. It ended sadly like life so often does, but not in a frayed way. It was obvious the story had finished, and so there was no more to say even if one wanted to. I felt privileged to have shared that time with all in Tortilla Flat, in a way it felt like peeking through windows, like something I was not part of, nor could ever hope to be. But subtly, the message is still there, and that is, we are all human.
Could Shakespeare have said it better?

Amazon listing here.

As for stars I find them gaudy and unnecessary for collections and great works. But let it be known that this would be five.


Sanity Fair said...

I wouldn't survive in your class! I have to type - handwriting is just too slow. Thanks for the book recommendation - I need to read this one! And thanks for stopping by Sanity Fair.

Nessa said...

I have not read any of Steinbeck but he is n my current reading list. I've stayed away from him because I thought he would be too depressing.

Aoife.Troxel said...

Well, he sort of is. A little bit. But I always feel like I got the whole story, never disappointed.