Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Wishlist Wednesday: In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck

I finished reading Oil! by Upton Sinclair. We read it for the May 5th meeting of BOOKLEAVES. While I might not love it so much that I want to marry it and have its ink-stained babies, as Kookiejar does, I was really impressed and certainly would not be adverse to first tenderly, then excitedly running my fingers through its pages once again.

The main thing I admired about Oil! is that Sinclair explains so lucidly how business and government work for and against each other, usually without much thought to the workers. Sinclair's sympathies are undisguisedly with the workers and their struggle for better working conditions and pay, but he's willing and able to let the readers see all sides of the argument, thanks to his protagonist, Bunny, the young "oil prince" who loves his capitalist father dearly but was born with a noble consciousness that pesters him unmercifully. He wants to be a noble Socialist hero like his boyhood idol, Paul Watkins, but Bunny also loves the association with power and influence, which he often uses to get his Socialist friends out of scrapes like prison and deportation.

Except for Paul, readers of Oil! don't really get an extended view of the workers, so when Matt from my book group asked me if I'd read In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck, he thoroughly captured my attention. If you'll remember, I'm a gigantic Steinbeck fan, and it's one of my life goals to read his entire canon.

According to Matt, In Dubious Battle was published a little bit before The Grapes Of Wrath and also while Steinbeck was working very strongly on his journalism. It's the story of the organization of a strike among migrant fruit workers, with the emphasis on the tension the workers feel being caught between the union and the business owners. Matt also added that one of the strike organizers, Mac, seems a lot like Satan in Paradise Lost. He said that the novel was pretty intense.

I didn't need any more convincing. Matt had me at "John Steinbeck", but a strike from the workers' point of view conveyed in the rough, honest yet lyrical language used by Steinbeck and a character that's both evil and attractive sealed the deal. In Dubious Battle seems like the perfect companion piece for Oil! Onto the wishlist it goes. I'm going to look for a copy this weekend. Thanks, Matt.

5 comments:

Ella said...

I think "In Dubious Battle" is one of his best. It's a diffucult book for the size of it, but well worth the trouble. Have you read "Tortilla Flats" yet? That's my favorite.

GFS3 said...

The first paragraph of this post is why I keep coming back here.

You are such a good writer.

kookiejar said...

I'm really, REALLY glad you enjoyed "Oil!", Bybee. (Such a relief, too.) I particularly enjoyed (and what the movie portrayed so convincingly) was the adversarial yet strangely co-dependent relationship between organized religion and big business.

Eli Watkins and Dad both despised each other's way of life, but realized they couldn't function without aspects of one another. Just utterly, utterly fascinating to me.

I'm re-reading it now (again) and it never ceases to make me fall in love.

I will look for the Steinbeck! I hadn't heard of that one, but I do loves me some Steinbeck! :D Thanks.

Bookfool said...

Ditto what gfs3 said. The ink-stained babies line made me chuckle.

Bybee said...

Ella,
yes, I liked Tortilla Flat a lot!

gfs3,
Blush. You're good, too...and you talk about more than just books.

Kookiejar,
I want to write a longer and better review of "our" book. I don't think I did it justice, using it as a springboard for wishlist weds.

Bookfool,
that line was pure Kookiejar. You can look it up.