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Genre: Classic, Drama
There is no arguing the sheer brilliance of John Steinbeck. The long list of accolades and the controversy he had courted in his days (some of which still continues) is proof of his influence in the current society. Some deem him (astoundingly) mediocre, partly on account if his opinionated take on events; others, consider his work as American classic. Neither argument is completely false, though I, personally, align myself with the latter. If it would be possible to keep aside for a moment, the political ramifications of Steinbeck's work, one cannot deny the strength of his writings. He does not waste words; his economy only accentuates the somewhat lean personality of the settings and the characters. Everything is stripped unappealingy bare and covered flimsily with sardonic humour. A bit like J.D. Salinger, in some ways, but with a bigger lens on the society.
The man is a Nobel laureate (the logic of which, too, is widely contested), and his body of work is a perfect illustration of genius, as it is capable of bringing down the esoteric to grass-roots level for the layman. One of the many gems of Steinbeck's treasure is the 100-odd pages long novella Of Mice and Men. The story follows a snippet in the lives of an unlikely pair of friends - the big, beefy Lennie and the scrawny George. Their basis of their association is a mystery, given the dramatic differences in their faculties. But like all things, the society casts a levelling blanket over their strangeness and welcomes them into its treacherous folds.
Speaking of society, Of Mice and Men is set in the Great Depression years of the US, as are some of his most famous works (The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row). Work was tough to come by in those days. Hard times are harder on those with less to lose than others, as was in the case of George and Lennie. Relation amongst men and with labour is a recurring theme with many of Steinbeck's work. This story, similarly, hinges on the nature and compatibility of the two men in a persistently dire situation and the subsequent consequences.
The length of the story justifies the plot; while some view it as an ending, I see it as a phase in the lives of the protagonists. The language helps, by way of its lucidity, but then that has always been one of the key differentiators of Steinbeck's work in general. Typically, too, Of Mice and Men has its share of horror and cringe in plain sight, but there is something about the honesty of the portrayal so akin to some of our personal experiences - although they may not be at the same scale - which makes the reading so tolerable and at some levels, relatable.
This is an oft-reviewed book and much loved since it was published in 1937. This was followed by several stage and screen adaptations of considerable merit, but none come close to the writing itself. For the uninitiated, this would be a perfect introduction to the author (as was the case for me, when it blew my mind away one fine summer afternoon many years back).
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