Small, cheerful and romantic, Sweet Thursday appeared almost on the heels of the large, grim and misogynistic East of Eden. It’s been suggested that the difference in tone can be traced to changes in Steinbeck’s own love life after his divorce and remarriage in 1950. Even so, the main characters in both novels are prostitutes, indicating perhaps that Steinbeck had a pretty narrow view of career women.
Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck. Viking Press (1954), 273 pp.
Doc, a marine biologist, returns to Monterey after the Second World War. He’s feeling blue. His friends, members of a closely knit group of well-meaning ne’er-do-wells, try to help him overcome lethargy and loneliness. When they see that he has taken a shine to Suzy, a feisty young prostitute, they scheme to bring the two together. At first, social and educational differences seem insurmountable. But love can sometimes conquer all.
This is Steinbeck’s sequel to Cannery Row. It features many of the same quirky characters and uses the same bemused, ironic narrator. The love affair adds romance to a sentimental portrait of group solidarity among the poor and marginalized. While it’s all mildly amusing, the story may be a bit too fanciful to generate strong concern for the characters. Readers new to Steinbeck might want to start elsewhere (perhaps The Red Pony). But anyone who liked Cannery Row will probably enjoy this book too.