JOHN STEINBECK, THE GOOD COMPANION: His Friend Dook's Memoir

Carlton A. Sheffield, Author, Terry White, Editor, Richard Blum, Introduction by . Creative Arts. $14.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-88739-350-1

The late author of this engrossing memoir—which appeared in a limited edition 20 years ago—met Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck in 1919 at Stanford University, where they were classmates. The two became intimate friends three years later, their connection resting on a common literary sensibility—an "awareness of the intricacy of language and its delicious potentials"—as well as a fondness for drink and adventure. According to Richard H.A. Blum (chair of the American Lives Endowment, which supported the publication of this memoir), who supplied a rather rambling introduction, "Dook [Sheffield] was the major source of Steinbeck's earlier writing strength," and he "was for Steinbeck an immense resource as support, reader-critic, sporting-life companion and dearest friend in early manhood." Steinbeck was immensely important to Sheffield as well: the latter "in many ways defined his self-worth by virtue of that friendship." Blum is strangely—perhaps even inappropriately—critical of Sheffield, suggesting he is "flat," emotionless and even envious of Steinbeck's success, while "bitter" about his own failures. In the memoir itself, however, Sheffield successfully sublimates any alleged bitterness, instead providing us with a lively, honest account of an important, influential friendship that lasted, on and off, for close to 50 year. Sheffield's simple rationale for the memoir: "I realized I knew things about Steinbeck that were available nowhere else." While scholars will surely find new materials on the life of this famously swaggering writer, Sheffield warns us that his memoir "is not a biography, nor is it a commentary or a critique." It draws heavily upon a fairly extensive written correspondence between Sheffield and Steinbeck, although their letters up to 1933 were destroyed at Steinbeck's command, a sizable documentary loss to fans and scholars alike. (June 15)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 02/01/2002
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