I've probably said it before, but John Steinbeck was not the writer most of us thought he was. By that I mean that many of us think of Steinbeck rather narrowly. Even I, having read almost everything he has written, tend to think of Steinbeck as a writer of realist fiction of downtrodden farmers and paisanos. But from To a God Unknown to Burning Bright, Steinbeck's style has never been quite so easy to nail down.
The Wayward Bus is one of the novels that defies our perception of Steinbeck. This is most evident in the way the story is told, a continually roving character study. The narrative jumps from character to character as they prepare, then embark on a bus journey during a potentially dangerous rainstorm. Steinbeck rarely spends as much as two pages on any particular character before he's moving down the line, giving the perspective of the next character, then the next. Never do I recall in a work of Steinbeck any such character roulette. And it works magnificently for this book with its strangers-on-a-journey motif.
And these are great characters with so much potential. Characters who act contrary to their beliefs. Characters who put on airs. Characters who are so realistic because each one tries to convey their insignificance while unconsciously acting on the knowledge that they are the center of the universe.
The Wayward Bus was well on its way to being one of my all-time favorite Steinbeck reads, but toward the end, the book itself modeled the journey: it lost traction and went off the road. The problem is that the end is rushed. The reader spends so much time getting to know these characters and all their quirks, that once the characters face their greatest challenge, it's time for the story to conclude. The conflict you anticipate for a couple hundred pages fizzles. Also, I was personally disappointed that the story never returned to Alice, the only significant character who is not a passenger on the bus. Overall, I thought the resolution was poor.
Unfortunately, The Wayward Bus is sort of forgettable. So much time is spent with each character's thoughts that little action occurs. Normally, I like stories like this when there is a pay-off, but the conclusion is flat. Still, I liked The Wayward Bus if for no reason other than the build-up. Steinbeck was on to something with this style, but he might have lost interest in the project before he finished, or maybe he was just unable to translate his idea for the conclusion to the page. Whatever the reason, The Wayward Bus is every bit a Steinbeck tale, but parallel to none other.
I think I have to read another book alongside East of Eden. I´ve gotten the feeling that this might be a hard hitting read. Cathy freaks me out and I don´t even think I have seen the worst of her. And no, it doesn´t mean I don´t like the book. I really do. I just have to read something a bit more lighthearted every now and then.
I have choosen The Mitford Murders as the book that has to do the deed. I have never read a book by any of the Mitford Sisters and I don´t know much about the family either, so I don´t know much about the Mitfords themselves. Which might be a good thing in regards to this book. Let´s see how I will get along with it.
This might be an 800 pages novel disguised in an edition with 600 pages. The fond is tiny in this Penguin Modern Classics edition. I´m a little bit intimidated by that.
I´m not very far into the story, but there is certainly something special to Steinbeck´s writing:
When a child first catches adults out - when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not have devine intelligence, that their judgements are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just - his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is nothing sure about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter and sink deeply into green muck. It´s a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child´s world is never quite whole again. It´s an aching kind of growing.