Since listening to an audiobook edition of Cannery Row earlier this year and falling in love with both the characters and Steinbeck's writing, I've looked forward to reading this sequel. It's set about ten years after the events of Cannery Row. Doc has returned from army service to his work at the Western Biological Laboratory and finds himself unsatisfied and depressed. This makes the other denizens of Cannery Row decide that Doc needs a wife and that Suzy - a new girl at the Bear Flag Restaurant - is the wife for him.
Unlike Cannery Row, which is essentially a series of linked vignettes, Sweet Thursday has a more traditional structure. In many ways it resembles a 1950s romantic comedy - think Spencer Tracey and Katharine Hepburn* - in which boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. In the process of finding true love, both Doc and Suzy have to learn a lot about themselves and about each other. Getting Doc and Suzy together requires effort from Doc's friends, including Mack and the boys at the Palace Flophouse (and in particular the dimwitted but sweet Hazel), Dora and the girls at the Bear Flag Restaurant and the new owner of Lee Chong's Grocery, who revels in the name of Jesus and Mary.
I loved reading this novel. The characters are well-drawn and the narrative contains both humour and wisdom about the human condition. I love Steinbeck's use of language: there's something about the directness of his prose, its accessibility and its beauty, which really speaks to me. This is not a high-brow work. It may not be up there with The Grapes of Wrath in terms of literary merit, but for anyone who has read and loved Cannery Row, it's a real treat. I will definitely be reading it again. Spending time with Doc and those who love him is a joy.
*Not that I visualise Tracey and Hepburn in the roles of Doc and Suzy, but the sparring and the repartee which characterised their on-screen relationship would be just right for this pair.