Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Set after the end of The War, Sweet Thursday is the sequel to the popular Cannery Row. The nostalgic return to the setting of the first book finds Cannery Row, Monterrey, largely unchanged, with the Palace Flophouse, The Bear Flag, the store and Western Biological all still in existence; only the canneries have closed, a result of over-fishing. Mack, Hazel, Whitey number one and the others still reside in the Flophouse; only Gay is missing, having perished in The War. The new madam of The Bear Flag is the affable Fauna and an enterprising man named Joseph and Mary has replaced the departed Lee Chong as the owner of the store.
Doc, recently returned from war duty, finds that his marine specimen business, Western Biological, has been so poorly managed in his absence that it is close to collapse. The generous and popular Doc is also depressed, lonely and struggling to find meaning in his life, much to the concern of his devoted friends, who are determined to do anything they can to help him. Fauna makes the decision to match Doc with the latest addition to The Bear Flag, the attractive and argumentative Suzy. The book follows the close-knit community’s well meaning, often humorous and sometimes disastrous efforts to get the two of them together.
Sweet Thursday is in essence a love story, in which the author’s wisdom and humanity is in evidence throughout. This is one of Steinbeck’s lighter and more optimistic novels; less disturbing than the epic Grapes of Wrath or the political novel, In Dubious Battle, for example, but none the less a profound work in its own right. Whilst the reader would undoubtedly enjoy this book more having read the prequel Cannery Row first, it is not essential to do so.