Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Wayward Bus

by John Steinbeck

The Wayward Bus

i saw Dusty reading this and asked him what it was all about. he said it was hard to say, it was about life and people and what a countertop looks like and what a place feels like and how people think or not-think. he also said that Steinbeck was his favorite author. he finished reading the book and then gave it to me. i would say that Dusty is my friend, sure, why not.

The Wayward Bus is about a bunch of people in post-WW 2 america. it features a pimply and testosterone-filled youth, a homely waitress, a smokin hot stripper, a conformist old executive & his quietly manipulative wife & their independent daughter, an angry old man, a war vet turned traveling salesman, a horrible and self-loathing wife and her husband - a "man". at least that's how Steinbeck takes pain to describe him, repeatedly. what is a "man"? have i met one? anyway, all these people met up at a diner and most of them get on a bus together, and that's the novel. The Wayward Bus is about Wayward People. or more specifically, people who are in transition or who want to be in transition or who are experiencing a moment in their lives where transition could potentially happen, if they let it. if that transition is the right thing to do. what is "the right thing to do"? i don't know.

Dusty is my BIL's younger brother. he seems to always be in transition. what is he doing right now? i don't know. i see him during the Christmas holidays, we usually crash in my sister's living room, we watch our nephews open gifts, we drink some drinks, we have Christmas dinner together, we go our separate ways. before Christmas i usually take him and the rest of the family out to a really nice dinner. that's my Christmas gift to them all. it is the kind of anonymous 'expensive' gift that is very easy for a bachelor like myself to give. all it requires is a lot of money and very little thought. Dusty gives me good gifts for Christmas. he thinks about his gifts; they are meaningful, and personally meaningful to me. he has the gift of giving thoughtful gifts. i think i used to have that gift as well. did i lose it?

Steinbeck is a brilliant writer, let's just get that out of the way. his prose is genuinely amazing. cliche time: he is a painter using words. his writing absorbed me - but a depressing kind of absorbing. he describes these characters inside and out, you know what they look like and how they will react in a given situation. he contextualizes them. he supplies the macro and the micro. he beautifully describes these characters' surroundings, natural or man-made, the history of a particular setting, what it looks and smells and feels like, the resonance of a place. he moves from that to what a countertop looks like, a small and under-furnished room, a bus (lots & lots of bus!), a cave, a barn, an abandoned house. my God, the man describes the inner life of a fly right before it is crushed! the novel feels both big and small. he gets into these characters' heads, he shows the why and the how and the what-if of their waywardness, their possible and impossible transitions and journeys. he makes you know them. even the angry old man - even he gets his reason why, his context, his pain & fear & longing, even he is made whole for the reader. for some readers, he makes you love them, or at least able to empathize with them. but not for this reader. thanks to Steinbeck, i "know" them. i guess. but empathize? probably not. they seem to exist solely to carry out the stereotypical functions of their gender, to obsess about sex, about power, to dream of freedom, to dream big and then act small. i don't like these characters. are lives really so small? maybe it is a smallness in me that refuses to recognize their needs and desires as my own, to dismiss them as "stereotypes". i suppose. so yeah, Steinbeck is a brilliant writer. he makes me understand these characters enough to make this reader's skin crawl at the thought of them.

Dusty is in the military. sorta. he's out now but still connected. he's young and handsome so they feature him in videos on youtube where he explains how the military counters terrorist threats and how to use various weapons. Dusty has been in Iraq. Dusty is a Buddhist. i think. he appreciates eastern philosophies and dislikes material possessions and wants to work with his hands, preferably in nature. i don't know if he has Big Goals in his life but he is a thinker. he thinks and then he switches up his life. then he thinks again, and switches it all up again. he is a Wayward Bus kinda guy.

i am not a Wayward Bus kinda guy. this is an incredible book in many ways but i did not connect with it. i don't appreciate its take on human nature. it depressed me, these characters depressed me. sometimes i look at things like The Wayward Bus and am reminded that i may have smarts but i don't think i have a lot of depth. i am content and usually just want to be left alone. i'm not Wayward, i'm the opposite, i'm here to stay. i look at these characters and sometimes they are like bugs to me, like that fly getting crushed in that cake. Dusty looks at them and he sees real people. he empathizes with them, their situation resonates with him, he connects. why is that? i look at Dusty and i see a real person. don't i? what is a real person anyway.

despite all the wayward and meandering existential angst above, i think this is a brilliant book. you should read it. i loved it and yet i didn't like it very much. you can love something without liking it, right?

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