Saturday 21 July 2018

Maia Dunphy: Steinbeck tearjerker had a profound effect on my teenage years

Book that changed my life - Maia Dunphy: Fiction -  Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck, Easons, €11.25

Author John Steinbeck.
Author John Steinbeck.

Jonathan deBurca Butler

I think the books we love when we're young become part of our make up more than those we read as adults. Our ethics and moral compasses are still developing through to our late twenties, so we're told anyway, so it makes sense that books we read before then will shape us more than those we read later.

The one book I remember affecting me greatly was John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. I was about 11 or 12, had finished all the books on my bedside table and my dad gave me his prized copy. I read it over two nights, and sat up until the wee hours of the morning on the second, unable to put it down - it's a short book, I wasn't some sort of prodigy. The tragedy of it hit me like a wrecking ball. I knocked on my parents' door at two in the morning inconsolable, with whispers from my mum to my dad of "what did you give her that for?" To be fair, I was a sensitive kid, but I defy anyone not to be moved by it.

Before that novel, I had lived in a library of happy endings, though now that I think of it with some of the original fairy tales I used to read, perhaps not. But they were from fantasy worlds, this came from the real world and I was devastated. Steinbeck created a world where people were cruel, lonely and where dreams and aspirations didn't come true. Needless to say, Of Mice and Men doesn't have a happy ending. I was too young to fully appreciate many of the themes, or the backdrop of that time in American history; but a great story is always one that can work on a basic level, and this book to me at that age, was just a great tale of friendship between gentle giant Lennie and his wily but loyal pal George. Towards the end of the book, I began to read faster, desperate to finish it so that I could find out the sense of foreboding I had was unjustified. Unfortunately, for me and my tear ducts, it wasn't.

My dad was an avid reader and book hoarder and had almost the complete works of Steinbeck. He gave them to me a few years later. Cannery Row, Travels With Charley, The Grapes of Wrath I read them all and still have them, but no other book affected me the way Of Mice and Men did. It's still on my shelf, but I was never able to read it a second time. I still don't think I could.

Maia Dunphy's 'The M Word - a book for women who happen to be parents' is out now.

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