Reading the story involved a continual type of experience-formed tension, a sort of race running within my enjoyment, involving a contest between all the characters being fascinatingly neurotic and all the characters being neurotically irksome. On the whole the former element won out and I enjoyed the book, but there were definitely some cracks and underwhelming sections. The novel looks at different aspects of ambition and frustrated ambition in the fulcrum of a single busride crossing from the United States to Mexico. It’s a pretty strong indictment of different aspects of class-bound prejudice, blindness and at points fundamental mental disconnect. The families in this novel cry out for qualified psychological help more than even most famous novels and the process of the book shows some rather amusing points linked to the main presentation. There’s no main central chracer or unifying plot beyond watching these people exchange with each other, so it sparkles when the encounters are believable and damning, and falls flat when it becomes too much. It does at times, but mostly functions effectively to intrigue with the vivid imagination of somewthing like realism.
There’s an enormous focus on sexuality in the book, traced from various sides and with a lot of depicted hang ups over it. That component shows the main success as well as disconnect in the story, as Steinbeck often made a quite arch narrative point but then moved on to some rather dated or essentialized claim regarding erotics that I found rather jarring. Not a bad book but neither is it exactly excellent, and for all the forthwhile elements and easy reading pattern it has some jarring elements. In a way reading this book immediately after Desolation Road and To the Lighthouse is approrpriate, as it contains elements of the main pattern from both books mixed together. It’s a weird mix, but better and more fun for reading than might be expected.
Worse than: In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck
Better than: The Pearl by John Steinbeck