Saturday, 11 July 2009

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I first read this when I was sixteen and it gripped me then like it did recently when I reread it. Steinbeck's depression era novel isn't really a drinking book, aside from the character of Uncle John, a troubled soul.

He gets drunk just once in 500 pages, but it's a set piece in obliteration as he downs two pints of whiskey. There's no pleasure in his liquor, he's drinking to get drunk as quickly as he can. This is the painful side of alcohol. Unlike Hašek’s cheery priest, Uncle John is sousing himself in an attempt to shut out his own personal hell.

Tom Joad is looking for his uncle. When he hears that he's gone off to get thoroughly pickled, he goes to the local store and interrogates the shop keeper:

“Well, sir, he got a couple pints of whisky an’ he didn’ say a thing. He pulled the cork an’ tipped up the bottle. I ain’t got a license to drink here. I says: “Look, you can’t drink here. You go outside.” Well, sir! He jus’ stepped outside the door, an’ I bet he didn’t tilt up that pint more’n four times till it was empty. He throwed it away an’ he leaned in the door. Eyes kinda dull. He says: “Thank you, sir,” an’ he went on. I never seen no drinkin’ like that in my life.”

Uncle John gets a sock on the jaw for his trouble about a page later...

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