Friday, 10 March 2017

The Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck Review


John Steinbeck is one of my favourite writers. The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden - masterpieces all. Even his less “important” novels like Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday, as well as his nonfiction book, Travels with Charley, where he goes on an RV tour of America with his poodle Charley, are superb. 

He’s written some stinkers too though. The Red Pony and The Short Reign of Pippin IV are both tedious and Tortilla Flat is just ghastly. Unfortunately The Wayward Bus is one of the latter. 

Set in post-war America, a bus breaks down in a rural Californian pitstop so the passengers hunker down in the cafe for the night. They get into the bus in the morning, it breaks down again, and the novel’s over. Why… 

Steinbeck’s writing is still good - as always I could very clearly see everything he described and the characters are well-written - but I wish the novel had a point! I guess it’s about the characters who are all at change moments in their “wayward” lives or something? Maybe the meandering style is meant to be reflective of the theme? Maybe the cast are a microcosm of American society in the midst of a transformative state following the Second World War, on their way to becoming something else? It still doesn’t make the book any less dull to read. 

The Wayward Bus is one of Steinbeck’s minor works for a reason: it doesn’t seem to have a point and if it does it doesn’t express it either strongly or memorably. I was very bored for most of the novel which is disappointing as Steinbeck usually produces good stuff. I don’t know who this book would appeal to but I’d say even Steinbeck fans needn’t bother with it.

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