Thursday, October 20, 2011

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck (Audio)

After listening to "East of Eden" on audio, I decided I needed to read more of this Steinbeck fellow.  I have no recollection of reading any of his work in high school, you see.  So I ordered "Of Mice and Men" on audio next from the library.

But surely I have read this at one point in my life!  Before this listening experience, I would have sworn that I hadn't.  Because the entire story was told over only four discs, Heather and I decided it would be a great selection for our drive home from SIBA11 in Charleston.

Then I had an epiphany.  Everything seemed way too familiar.  I HAD read this in high school...and I blocked it out of my mind.  And for good reason.  Everything about this story made my stomach turn.  Heather and I were screaming at the narrator.  As a young impressionable teenager, I'm sure everything about this story traumatized me.  But I will get to all that here in a minute.

Synopsis:  Again, a bogus effort, similar to my attempt to summarize "East of Eden".  So for the three people out there that have not read this book:

Two men, one street-wise and the other mentally challenged, are migrant farm workers wandering about the California countryside looking for a job amidst the depression.  They are running from their past because the slower man, Lennie, is strong and hulking but has the mentality of a five year old.  He touches pretty things and soft things, like a small animal or a woman's shiny hair, but doesn't understand when it is too rough or inappropriate.  Lennie dreams of a day when he and his caretaker, George, can live in their own house, have a garden and raise rabbits.  He is joyous at the thought and begs for George to spin the fantasy for him often.

Lennie and George find jobs at a ranch, but immediately one senses trouble.  A jealous husband with a trigger temper and something to prove.  A pretty young flirtatious wife.  Puppies.  A black migrant worker and a white migrant worker with a maimed hand, lost souls that don't remember what it is like to have a goal or a dream.  Once again Steinbeck goes to visceral, uncomfortable, dark places in the heart where loneliness and powerlessness reside.

My thoughts: So back to my high school self.  It is no wonder I refused to remember I'd read this book.  As a 45 year-old, I almost couldn't sit through it.  I imagine a 16 year-old, who was always disturbed when the weak were picked on, and who loved animals, had to turn her head, close her eyes, cover her ears, and scream "LALALALALA".  This story was so torturous, I even think it should count for the RIP Challenge.

I'll admit, yes, Steinbeck's writing is gorgeous.  And he so incredibly astute when it comes to verbalizing the emotions that make a person squirm.  The issues addressed offer hours of discussable topics.  But I did not enjoy the experience.  I felt sick to my stomach.

George was Lennie's protector, but he was incredibly mean-spirited with him at times.  He preyed on Lennie's insecurities.  Everyone preyed on Lennie's weaknesses, even those most downtrodden.  Instead of appreciating Lennie for his innocence and loyalty and friendliness, they delighted in scaring him or confusing him.  It was heart-breaking.

So many people in the story longed to have a dream.  Once they heard about George and Lennie's fantasy farm with the rabbits, they wanted to come along too, offering to wash dishes or help with the gardening.  But we know all along, this is never going to happen.  This was heart-breaking too.

And don't even get me started on the cruelty to animals.  Heather almost made me turn the audio off a couple of times.  Let's just face it, my heart had been chewed up and spit out at the end of the four discs.  I think it is safe to call the story powerful.  But it contained more power than I could handle.

A word about the audio production:  Various versions of this audio exist (one narrated by Gary Sinise, which is probably a great listen), but this one was tackled by Mark Hammer, who was perfect.  I have experienced Hammer in some of his work with the James Lee Burke series and the Lawrence Block series, and he is memorable.  His vocalization had a huge range, his accents were pitch-perfect, and captured the essence of each personality. Steinbeck would have been proud.

4 out of 5 stars     

A note about the rating:  I struggled with this one.  Steinbeck is brilliant in so many ways, so for that reason, this book could have been a 5.  The narration was certainly a 5.  But the plot itself left me at such loose ends, so sickened, that I had to pull it down a star. 

                

26 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

I think I read a Steinbeck in school, but reading your post I'm pretty sure it wasn't this one. Of Mice and Men is such a classic that I feel I should read it at some point. I'll keep an eye out for the audio now I've got your recommendation.

Zibilee said...

Oy, the puppies and the rabbits! I don't think I will ever forget this book, and it's not because I was just so enamored of it. I think this book might have scarred me in some small way because it was just so bleak, and the cruelty to animals just hurt my heart. I admit that this was a very moving piece of fiction, it just moved me in all the wrong ways. I also think you bring up a good point about how people took advantage of and kept repeatedly scaring Lenny. So, so sad.

Lauren said...

I never read this in high school. In fact, the first time I read it was about a month before I had to teach (as a high school English teacher). So, when I read it, I found it to be a great work of litearture. Yes, very disturbing at times, but I was moved and effected by it. And when a book moves you, I feel like its done its purpose. Now my students - they actually had a range of emotions. Some didn't care, some loved it, and some, also, were disgusted at points. But the ones moved and disgusted also really enjoyed it. I think because it was the first book in that class that they read that actually made them feel something other than boredom. That said, I like the book. Now that you're reacquainted yourself with it, you'll notice references to it in pop culture all the time.

bermudaonion said...

I don't think I've read this, but maybe it would all come back to me too. I loved your review!

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Nice to see someone else's thoughts concerning this one. I admit it's pretty hard to handle some of the contest. I can't really imagine listening to the story. I find reading things could SOMETIMES be a bit easier.

-Lauren

Jenny said...

Im one of those three! The only Steinbeck I had to read was The grapes of Wrath. This one sounds horrible though despite the writing. I'm going to protect myself from it!

Alyce said...

I absolutely hated this book when I read it as a teenager for those same reasons. Steinbeck can sure make people feel things with his writing, but why would I want to make myself feel that bad all over again?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I read this one in high school too and it was disturbing then. I just saw it performed as a play last month and even though I knew how it would end, it still made me sob when it happened. It was even more powerful to have to watch it unfold a few yards away. I hope you'll read Cannery Row or Travels with Charley sometime to get a taste for Steinbeck's lighter side. Both books gave me a greater appreciation for his work, because after my first few books of his, I thought he could only write bleak dramas (and skip The Pearl, yuck).

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Ah this is one of my favorites. It seems like people are reviewing it all over the blogging community lately. I really need to read it again since I haven't read it in a few years. :O)

JoAnn said...

This was my least favorite of the 4 Steinbecks I read in high school. Loved it a few years ago though... Steinbeck is amazing!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Totally agree with your 2nd paragraph of "My Thoughts." and not just re this Steinbeck but any Steinbeck to which I have been exposed.

Linda said...

I loved East Of Eden. Of Mice and Men is on my Fill In The Gaps list. Thanks for the heads up. I'll read it with caution.

Ti said...

I'm the opposite. I thought I read this one, but after reading your review I realize I haven't. I tend to like Steinbeck quite a bit though. East of Eden is one of my fave books ever. I hold a great appreciation for The Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row was pretty darn good too.

ds said...

Excellent, perceptive review Sandy. Thank you.

heidenkind said...

I felt the same way about The Bell Jar. I was like, "For my own mental health I cannot read this book anymore!!!" Haven't managed to mind-block it yet, though.

reviewsbylola said...

I actually think I may have done the same thing you did and read this for a second time not realizing I had already read it!

Julie P. said...

I remember this from high school. I will probably re-read it when Booking Daughter is assigned it.

Jenners said...

I should probably reread this as I don't remember being that turned around and upset by it as you were. I probably didn't "get" most of what was happening when I was young one.

caite said...

Gee, I must have been a tough, cold hearted kid, because I do not remember having a problem reading this in high school. Sure it was sad but...BUCK UP!

Of course, my favorite Steinbeck is the non-fiction (although many critics say the whole thing is fiction) "Travels with Charley"..Charley is a standard poodle.

Beth F said...

I could have written Caite's comment myself. I don't remember being traumatized. The movie was really good too (well, probably not for you). You should read Travels with Charley -- I just loved it.

Darlene said...

You know I was sure I had read this one but now I'm thinking maybe I only tried watching the movie because I know I wouldn't have been able to read it with abuse to animals in it. I do like Steinbeck though - East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath are among my favorites.

Anna said...

I'm one of the three people who haven't read this book. I took it off my shelf and read the first 10 pages or so before having to put it aside. Now I'm wondering if I really want to finish it...

wordsandpeace said...

East of Eden is my Steinbeck's favorite. But I read Of Mice and Men last August for the Steinbeck Classics Circuit and enjoyed it a lot, though yes the story is rather grim, to say the least. here is my review. You might be interested to know that it's my most visited post so far over 13 months, well probably because of kids studying this book at school: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/review-64-of-mice-and-men/
Emma @ Words And Peace

Melissa said...

I've read this one, and I love Steinbeck, but I don't remember too much about this one. Probably one I should re-read at some point.

Kathleen said...

I love Steinbeck and I have read this book numerous times. I can never read it without feeling like it is the most gut wrenching experience. I just want it to end differently and I guess every time I read it, I hope that it will!

The Bumbles said...

It is a master who can evoke such emotion from his readers. I have not yet read this Classic but have heard and inferred enough through the years to know what I am in for. I applaud your dive into the Classics and hope you recover from the moving plot. The best reads are those that stir us all up.