Why am I tackling Tortilla Flat again when I didn’t care for the characters and their stories five months ago, and stopped reading mid-way?
The book was a publishing success back in 1935, so I thought I should give it another go.
I’m glad I did.
Tortilla Flat is one of those tales where nothing seems to happen in Monterey, California. It opens with Danny returning home from breaking mules in Texas during the war years to find that he has inherited property: two neglected houses on the edge of town.
Rather than embracing his good fortune, he loafs around until he meets Pilon, his old pal who moves into one house as a tenant while Danny takes the other. Then Pablo and Jesus Maria arrive, enjoying the hospitality and reneging on the rent.
When the freeloaders accidentally burn down one house, Danny takes them all in. They spend their days sleeping in, scheming and stealing food and other items in exchange for wine or gifts to win women’s hearts. And when times are hard, they cut squid for small change that they squander again.
We read about the adventures of Danny and his motley group as they move from one disaster to another. And even though it all seems mundane and uninteresting, if you stay long enough, you get sucked into their world.
That’s because these simple folk, the paisanos of mixed heritage, mean well. They are tight and look after each other in a crisis. So you persevere.
Then Steinbeck strikes, with an unexpected twist that leaves you reeling. When pathos comes to the surface and you find yourself caring about these men.
Why didn’t I see that before?