Dave Eggers plays a role in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
, though not as a character the like of those who Steinbeck seemed able to limn as easily as he might spit in a bucket. The agony that Eggers presents himself experiencing by simply being a man who wouldn’t back down from the challenges of his time is the complete opposite of Steinbeck’s people, who bent like reeds in the politically tumultuous world of the 30s and 40s. If AHWOSG
were published now it is doubtful Eggers would maintain the same philosophic posture he did in the pre-9/11 culture of America.
When I visited Cannery Row – the location, not the book – in the 60s it was in search of such noble characters; Doc Ricketts et al. But what I got was quite different and what it was was the culture of the literary outsider, writers and poets mostly from Venice and SF, whose work was available for free on street corners and in little bookshops in the pre-gentrified, still beaten down and rusty seaport. It was a decade after On The Road
, but to be sure it was the first generation of the spawn of the "holy goofs" and their old ladies. Some, like Cassady, were still along for the ride, even while at the wheel, and others, new voices like da levy, were about to make their own mark on their time through a unique and dangerous take on a society that was ill-prepared to deal with their kind and their ideas.Howl
and On The Road
were the world changers for the outsiders or undergrounders
, as they were quaintly known. Steinbeck, although the master of the gritty, realistic (if already somewhat corny) narrative was the acceptable world changer whose books you didn't have to hide from the powers that be i.e., your mother and the vice principal. Brautigan, Barthelme and others patched up that leaky lifeboat, which was soon discovered to include one who had somehow become a passenger; who would take the new form and turn it into his own commercial shtick, accessible to Mom and Pop America. And yes, Tom Wolfe was the man until Hunter Thompson came along like a powerful outsider hurricane to blow him away like he was yesterday’s papers.