Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sometimes You've Gotta Lose Your Mind: Mentor of the Month: John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck's first big hit was Tortilla Flat. I haven't made it very far in...but enough to comment.

It opens like all Steinbeck's stuff--with beautifully desolate descriptions of place. The introduction tells us that this is a rethinking of King Arthur, which has been done before, and often. This time it's set in California during the Great Depression and it's about a bunch of outcasts, basically.

So far, so good. Crisp narration. The tell-tale genius that Steinbeck is known for.

Then we reach the first bit of dialogue: "I looked for thee, dearest of little angelic friends, for see, I have here two great steaks from God's own pig, and a sack of sweet white bread. Share my bounty, Pilon, little dumpling."

Are you going "What the *&^%!" too?

Thee, Thou, Knowest, etc. The old language jumps out and punches you in the face. I'm not far enough long to know whether or not this works for the story because I'm so busy going "What the $*&&$!" but I'm guessing that it's effective at making some mysterious point in the future because Steinbeck was not a one hit wonder and this was his first hit.

And I'm willing to bet that it was his first hit because he did something totally bat-shit crazy with his writing and it fascinated readers who weren't ready for it. I mean, who the heck thinks up stuff like this? It's a bit of creativity and boldness. It's still refreshing (and somewhat annoying...I'm still not sure I dig it...) today.

What I admire about it, even if I'm not a fan quite yet, is that it's crazy creativity with a purpose. It's no secret that Steinbeck was a super-fan of Le Morte d'Arthur and his retelling is spelled out in the introduction.

Is there something in your current work in progress that would lend itself to something crazy? Have you ever read something that made you go "What the &$#%^%!"?

1 comment:

  1. There have been several throughout the years. The most recent was Oryx and Crake when I hit the second timeline and went WTF? Where are we? Who is this?

    When I picked up Dracula, I couldn't believe that you could tell a story through letters and newspaper clippings. But Stoker told the heck out of it.

    Love those "What the &$#%^%!" moments.

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