I barely remember the first time I read Of Mice and Men. It was one of those classics I read in school because I had to. As a teen in the 1970s, it was not easy to relate to two drifters in the 1930s.
But when I read — or listened to — the novella again this month, I needed only a few minutes to see why so many consider it a masterpiece of literature. Published in 1937, it is the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, California migrant field workers.
As is so often the case, the friends are polar opposites. George is “small and quick and dark of face.” Lennie is a mild-mannered giant with a low IQ and penchant for petting small animals to death. Together they work toward a shared goal of financial independence.
When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, this goal appears to be within reach. But it isn’t long before Lennie’s habits and limitations invite trouble and put a happy future at risk.
The thing I liked most about Mice was the author’s description of time and place. I could almost smell the stench in the bunkhouse and see the dust roll over the fields. No one described the United States during the Great Depression like John Steinbeck.
I also liked the narration by Gary Sinise, one of my favorite actors. He nailed the accents and demonstrated impressive vocal range, though I must admit his portrayal of Lennie sounded an awful lot like Patrick Star, the dimwitted starfish in SpongeBob SquarePants.
I didn't care as much for the novella's rough language, which I found authentic but distracting. It is one reason that Mice, unfortunately, is among the most challenged of books in schools and libraries.
That said, the virtues of this timeless work, both the print and audio versions, outweigh its vices. I recommend it to anyone who likes stories about a difficult time in American history. Rating: 4/5.