January 9, 2008 > Book Review
By Robert A. Garfinkle
"Steinbeck Remembered: Interviews with Friends and Acquaintances of John Steinbeck"
By: Audry Lynch. Fithian Press; 127 pages; $12.95
There are dozens of biographies of John Steinbeck, but this book is unique, because it shows a part of John's life as told by twenty people who personally knew him from his childhood years in Salinas (1902-1919), his years in Monterey (1930-1936), and until 1941 in Los Gatos. These friends add a closeness and color to the subject that other Steinbeck biographies cannot match.
First we hear from the girl, Mary Ballantyne (nee Williams) who lived next door to the Steinbecks in Salinas. Though John Steinbeck was fifteen years older than Mary, she had a crush on him. She used to visit the Steinbecks after school almost every day and she now talks about how John's parents worried about him becoming a writer. They wanted him to become something respectful, like a banker. We are all glad that he did not pursue that career. Mary also reveals that it was her mother who convinced John's parents that he was a genius and they should support his writing efforts. They did and we all know how that turned out.
One of John's friends from his years in Monterey was Louise Archdeacon Travis, the widow of Tex Travis, one of the gang who went with Steinbeck on the expedition to the Sea of Cortez. Mrs. Lynch had to travel to Lake Havasu City, Arizona to interview Louise, and found the trip very rewarding. Louise had many stories to tell about the exploits of Steinbeck and her husband. She mentions how John and Tex would exchange clothes, because John liked to wear Tex's outfits and Tex liked John's silk shirts. Louise and Tex were also friends of Ed "Doc" Ricketts.
Possibly the most insightful interview is the last one in the book. Ms. Lynch located John's first cousin, Stanford Steinbeck. He mentions that John was a storyteller from his earliest days and could walk across the street and make up a story abut it. I found it interesting that to the Steinbecks, their famous John was simply a member of the family and to them, "he's just John."
I found this to be a fascinating look behind the curtain of one of America's best fiction writers of the last century. I recommend this book to anyone who loves to read the works of Steinbeck and wants to learn more about the Nobel Prize winning author.