- Monterey Bay by Lindsay Hatton
by Lindsay Hatton
New York: Penguin Press, 2016. 320 pages. Cloth $27.00
It's not often that one picks up a book that she has already decided she does not want to read—nor even any desire to enjoy. As a full admission of bias, I must confess that such was the situation in which I found myself when reaching for Lindsay Hatton's Monterey Bay.
For readers itching for more of Steinbeck's Doc, the book offers a story—a kind of "fan fiction"—that might satisfy like a good scratch. For readers searching for more depth of information or insight about Ed Ricketts, the book offers very little.
Yet I have not been able to stop thinking about the book since finishing it more than two months ago. Despite wanting to dislike everything about the novel, I find myself frequently going over it in my mind. It has taken a bit of time to understand what, exactly, it is about this book that has stayed with me.
Hatton's prose is exceptional and combined with her notable subject, it renders a novel that evokes comparison with Steinbeck's Cannery Row. Like the latter, Monterey Bay is set in the liminal space of the intersections of place and time—shifting between Monterey in the 1940s and the late 1990s. Hatton intertwines memory and perception powerfully, and, like Steinbeck, she captures the quality of life on Cannery Row as something both tangible and elusive.
In an early scene, fifteen-year-old Margot Fiske meets Ricketts in the tide pool, where she soon slips and suffers a concussion. Upon waking in his lab, she observes him and thinks, "Before, in the tide pools, she had come to several conclusions, none of which has been proven wrong. Now, though, there was the question of setting. At the water's edge, he had appeared to her in blunt-chiseled relief. Here, however, surrounded by his own necessities, the ceiling low and the light dim, it was more like something rendered in oil instead of stone: his outlines definite yet malleable, the paint dry but not quite hard" (13). I found myself reading and rereading this passage, thinking about how accurate Margot's observation was, not just about Ricketts in the context of the novel but about how experience, time, and place collide to form our impressions and memories. Inarguably, this same collision is one—or perhaps the main—driving force behind Steinbeck's novella as well. [End Page 99]
Although Hatton's Monterey Bay centers specifically on Margot Fiske and her father, like Steinbeck's Cannery Row her story often reads like a patchwork of scenes, episodes, and characters who stand alone, but together become one. The affair between Margot and Ricketts is offset by the dealings of her father, Anders, and Mrs. Agnelli, who are negotiating the sale of the Del Mar cannery. Ricketts's assistant Arthur and Mrs. Agnelli's son Tino are both Margo's suitors but become her companions, scheming and running amok on the row. Other, more familiar characters make appearances as well, including Bucky, the bum who helps Ricketts in the lab; Wormy, the woman with whom Ricketts has an on-again-off-again affair; and even Steinbeck himself.
In this way, once again, Monterey Bay is reminiscent of Cannery Row, although I would not go so far as to say that the former is a modern-day version of the latter. But not insignificantly, Hatton articulates the impact that Steinbeck's novella has had on many readers since its publication: "But in erecting this monument to his friend, Steinbeck had done something unintended. Instead of creating a facsimile, he had created a hybrid. Half Christ and half satyr, in Steinbeck's own words. To Margot, however, it wasn't quite so mythic. She saw Ricketts's head with Steinbeck's ears attached to it; Ricketts's shortness transformed into Steinbeck's height; Ricketts's vitality reduced to stasis, to an invisible cage that allowed Steinbeck to own him and watch him forever. She wanted to tell someone about it, to announce her discoveries...