- Steinbeck: The Untold Stories by Steve Hauk
by Steve Hauk illustrated by C. Kline
SteinbeckNow.com, 2017, 172 pp. $12.95 paper
Reflecting on "the soul of artists and writers," nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche observed that art "performs the task of preserving, even touching up extinct, faded areas; when it accomplishes this task it weaves a band around various eras, and causes their spirits to return" (104). Well over one hundred years later, this razor-sharp rumination has lost none of its acumen, and it adeptly describes the stimulating experience awaiting readers of Steve Hauk's ingenious new book, Steinbeck: The Untold Stories. Accompanied by memorable and imaginative illustrations by artist C. Kline, Hauk, an award-winning writer, playwright, and art dealer, has masterfully fused real historical events with fiction to birth sixteen short stories about the characters and complexities in the life of one of America's greatest writers, Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck.
A former journalist with an easy and engaging storytelling flair, Hauk has long indulged his deep-seated appreciation for Steinbeck's literature, and he even lives in the same Pacific Grove, California, house once owned by Steinbeck's closest friend and collaborator, marine biologist Edward Ricketts. In addition to his considerable authorial output, Hauk owns an art gallery in Pacific Grove whose mission statement provides considerable insight into both Hauk and his "untold" Steinbeck stories: "A vibrant artistic community does not function in a vacuum—its artists generally engage with the community and other artists, writers, poets, photographers, and scientists to create a more meaningful society and culture."
Indeed, it is hard to discern a difference between the spirit of creative collaboration inherent in the guiding principle of Hauk Fine Arts and that which developed in the early 1930s on Cannery Row among Steinbeck, Ricketts, and a rotating circle of friends and acquaintances who shared their artistic and intellectual sensibilities. Steinbeck drew much of his inspiration from this creative hotspot while writing his most popular fiction.
Describing its enlightened, electric vibe in her book A Journey into Steinbeck's California, Susan Shillinglaw writes, "Ricketts's lab was New Monterey's salon, a tiny Bohemian enclave of artists, writers, and musicians who were invited for parties and dinners or simply dropped by in the evenings to see what [End Page 76] was happening. 'There were great parties at the laboratory,' Steinbeck recalled, 'some of which went on for days.'" Stressing the influence these low-key, habitual get-togethers had on Steinbeck and his fiction, Shillinglaw observes, "They discussed any and all subjects. . . . If Pacific Grove was Steinbeck's home and writerly retreat, the lab in New Monterey was where ideas were forged. In the little laboratory by the sea, John Steinbeck's mind moved outward. . . . What happened at the lab was the kind of relaxation and friendship that Steinbeck assigns to the paisanos in Tortilla Flat or Mack and the boys in Cannery Row" (108; 113).
Writing about the "collective mind," Nietzsche concluded, "a good writer possesses not only his own mind but also the mind of his friends" (119). As if channeling the cerebral connection that existed in Ricketts's and Steinbeck's circle, he exhorted, "The most fortunate instance in the development of an art is when several geniuses reciprocally keep each other in check; in this kind of a struggle, weaker and gentler natures are generally also allowed air and light." Similarly, crime fiction writer Lawrence Block opines in his book Writing the Novel from Plot to Print, "Many of the characters with whom we people our fiction are drawn from life, and how could it be otherwise? One way or another, all our writing comes from experience, and it is experience of our fellow human beings that enables us to create characters that look and act and sound like human beings" (72–73).
Granting rare access into Steinbeck's "collective mind" by drawing on chance meetings, conversations, and formal interviews conducted over decades—as well as through correspondence and artifacts that he has collected—Steve Hauk's imaginative stories offer stirring profiles of Steinbeck's friends and contemporaries, who, in turn, allow...