The Wayward Bus

by John Steinbeck

Hardcover, 1947

Call number




Viking (1947), Edition: 1st, 312 pages


The ambitions, dreams, failings, and innermost thoughts of a diverse group of passengers are revealed as they travel aboard a bus along the backroads of California.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Smiler69
Set within the course of a single day, from pre-dawn until just after dusk, Steinbeck throws together a group of ten people and describes their battles, both with their inner demons and among each other for maximum dramatic effect. Alice and Juan Chicoy own a diner and garage at Rebel Corners,
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California where they feed travellers and shuttle them down a fifty-mile road on their old beat-up second-hand bus re-christined "Sweetheart". After introducing us to the place and to it's owners—Alice, who runs the restaurant; husband Juan, who operates the bus and is half-mexican and half Irish; their employees "Pimples" Carson, an oversexed crater-faced teenager and Norma, a plain girl who spends her free time writing letters to the object of her every thought, Clark Gable—the author throws us directly into a crisis. This is the morning after a failed attempt to ferry five passengers to San Juan de la Cruz. The bus having broken down, Juan was forced to drive back to Rebel Corners to fix the vehicle, and not knowing what to do with the passengers, the couple have put them up to sleep in their own quarters and spent the night sleeping on chairs themselves. Everyone is cranky before breakfast has even begun being served and we immediately get a feeling for the characters and some of the dynamics at play. There's the Pritchard family of three, who are on their way to vacation in Mexico. Eliot Pritchard is an uptight businessman who calls his wife Bernice "little girl". We're given to understand they rarely, if ever have sex, because Bernice finds it distasteful. Their grown daughter Mildred still lives at home, but is at odds with her conservative parents and yearns to find her own place in life and gain as many experiences as she can while she's young. Ernest Horton is on the face of it a traveling salesman for a novelties company, but he also wears a pin which signifies he's been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for military valour. There's also cranky old Mr. Van Brunt, who doesn't like anything and is convinced everything will go wrong.

Into this already combustible mix, another traveller makes her appearance after being dropped off by a Greyhound bus from nearby San Ysidro. Known to us under the false name of Camille Oaks, this blonde bombshell passes herself off as a dental nurse, but actually makes her living as a stripper (she's played by Jane Mansfield in what is considered to be a very bad movie adaptation). Before anyone has had time to finish breakfast, Alice has managed to cause a couple of major scenes, one of which prompts her waitress Norma to quit her job. A deeply neurotic and insecure woman who thinks her husband might leave her at any moment, Alice is immediately threatened by Camille Oaks' presence and is convinced that Juan has designs on her. Yet the thing she looks forward to most is to see everybody off so she can get stinking drunk. By the time everyone's gotten on the bus, has found their seats and settled in for the ride, we're already more than halfway through this short novel; we don't know if the passengers will make it to their destination, but we know they're in for a memorable ride. Someone mentioned on the Steinbeckathon thread that this novel seems like a precursor to reality shows, which I think is a very good observation. All the characters are flawed and not easy to like, but they offer a fascination look into the human psyche. Much recommended.
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LibraryThing member avidmom
Steinbeck let's us join him for a leisurely stroll on the beach in Cannery Row. Here, on The Wayward Bus, he picks up the pace and takes us for a ride!

The plot is pretty typical: strangers from different walks of life are thrown together through unhappy coincidence and are left to deal with their
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unhappy circumstances and each other. Usually, in stories like this, we travel a bit with the crew before the unfortunate circumstances befall them; here we join our group already stranded.

"Sweetheart," the bus Juan Chicoy operates out of the gas station/diner he and his wife, Alice own, has broken down the night before. "Rebel Corners" is also Juan and Alice's home. Juan and Alice have done everything possible to accommodate their human cargo by letting them spend the night with them - including giving up their own bed to one couple. Still, accommodations at Rebel Corners aren't exactly a suite at the Radisson Hotel and everybody is a little uncomfortable and understandably, a bit grumpy. Juan and Sweetheart don't need to take the passengers far - just to the Greyhound bus station in the next town over. These people are on their way to more exciting places than Rebel Corners ever hopes to be. Mr. and Mrs. Pritchard, a well-to-do businessman and his wife, are on their way to Juan's homeland, Mexico, for a vacation. Mildred, their 21-year-old daughter, is accompanying them. Ernest is a traveling salesman on his way to Hollywood. Mr. Van Brunt is a cantankerous old man on his way to court (presumably to sue somebody - again). Nobody is too happy about the delay. They wait it out in the Chicoy's lunch room while Sweetheart gets some TLC from Juan and his awkward adolesent mechanical apprentice, Pimples. Fortunately, Juan and Pimples get Sweetheart up and running.

While the group is waiting to get back out on the road again a new person, Camille, joins them. Camille is an intelligent, beautiful, voluptuous strip-tease artist who makes her living at conventions. She is used to men fawning over her; she is used to women hating her. "She knew why, but there wasn't anything she could do about it." Camille wishes for a differrent kind of life but she seems to charge the air with sexuality - whether she wants to or not. Once, someone had told her "You just put it out in the air. ..." When she arrives at the diner, she brings along with her her usual metaphorical storm of sexuality and, it seems, a literal storm. The weather outside is changing, just like the atmosphere inside among the group is changing. A few more passengers have decided to get on the bus. Pimples, because he wants to get closer to Camille, has joined Juan on his usual trek to the next town. Norma, the starry-eyed waitress who dreams of Hollywood - and most notably Mr. Clark Gable, has also joined the group after having a falling out with Alice. The passengers have to decide a few things at this point: do they brave the storm? what route do they take - the one that takes them over the shoddily built new bridge over the river or the old, abandoned twisty, bendy road that follows the course of the river? Our travelers decide to carry on, of course, and what route to take. It is soon after they take off in Sweetheart on the trek that Juan has probably driven more times than he cares to count, that he makes a surprising decision that affects the whole group's itinerary.

It's the surprises here that makes this book a fun read. At first glance, the characters seem stereotypical, but they eventually do and/or say things that surprise you. The character you can't stand in chapter one may be the one you like the most by the end of the book and vice versa. Or maybe not. Steinbeck throws enough curve balls here to keep you guessing about each character and makes this book a bit of a page turner. You know he's playing games with you; and it's fun! He also seems to be inserting a bit of social commentary here about how he feels about maintaining society's status quo, hypocrisy, and sexual repression (he's against these things).

This is the most entertaining and fun Steinbeck I've read. It surprised me that a book published in 1947 could be so bawdy. As a matter of fact, in Henry Seidel Camby's book review inserted in the front of my library copy he writes: "Mr. Steinbeck here and there may write too freely for the taste of some readers, particularly parents who may have teen-age children about whose reading they are concerned."

Oh, Mr. Steinbeck, behave!
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LibraryThing member GingerbreadMan
A California countryside bus is delayed overnight due to a broken cog. It’s then caught up in bad weather and forced to take a detour around an unsafe bridge. It then gets stuck in the mud and is forced to wait while the driver goes to fetch help. It’s the thinnest of plots, really. But against
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this crude backdrop of a storyline, Steinbeck creates a bunch of wonderful character studies, carefully drawn, down to the most minor roles.

There’s, among others, Camille (whose real name is something else), making a living stripping at business dinners, sick and utterly tired with her effect on men. There’s Norma, suddenly quitting her waitress job to seek out Clark Gable in Hollywood. Also Mr. Pritchard, the simple sort of all-american capitalist family man, now to his horror finding his word and name is worth nothing, his manipulating wife and his daughter, who’s deep down convinced she’s a pervert. And of course Juan the driver, who in all secrecy has decided this is his last ever trip.

It’s a slim book, this, but rich in detail, and even richer in tenderness: Steinbeck looks at his flawed, stupid, cruel and petty group of bus passengers with a gentle understanding, even when the events take a turn for the brutal. Psychological realism at its finest, I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed this, and find myself picking up another book by the same author immediately – something I almost never do.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
This is a miserable, beautiful novel set in California in the mid-1940s. Occurring in the space of a single day, the small misfortunes and misadventures in the lives of Juan, Alice, Norma, "Pimples", Mr. and Mrs. Pritchard and their daughter Mildred, and a few others, are Steinbeck's vehicle for
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exposing the ugly side of human nature. The other vehicle is "Sweetheart," the bus that is taking each of them somewhere else. None of them wants to be where they are.

Not a one of these characters is likable and yet each of them earns a bit of sympathy - or at least understanding - from the reader. They each have dreams and hopes. Steinbeck allows the dreams and hopes to show, just a bit, to offset the brilliant greed, hatred, and rage that drives these characters to behave monstrously to one another. Their uses and abuses come large and small, but every one of them displays the corrupt substance of human striving. Yuck.

Steinbeck's talent with language is evident throughout. He captures the inner workings of each soul with the deftness of a skilled surgeon: every cut is exact and no cut is excessive. The writing is spare and brutal, just like the hopes, dreams, and actions of the riders of the bus. Despite and because of the decrepit personalities with which Steinbeck has occupied his novel, it's a wonderful read and highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member edwinbcn
In The wayward bus Steinbeck describes how a group of people, a seemingly random sample from society, get along for a day while they are stuck in the middle of nowhere. Through the fabric of their palaver emerges the sense of deep loneliness, sexual repression and a craving for belonging. There are
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hidden dreams and façades suggesting success, which is longed for but not (yet) attained.

The setting, the so-called middle of nowhere, is quite clearly described, and even to modern readers recognizable as a place quite out of the way, a place one would have little hope for betterment. While some live there, others get stuck temporarily, as their bus makes an unscheduled stop. Causes for the bus to stop may be fate, as with the torrential rain that threatens to wash away the bridge, accident, as with the mechanical failure of the bus, or purposeful mishap, as the driver intentionally steers the bus into the mud, where it gets stuck in a rut.

However, in all cases, the state of being sidetracked seems temporal. The title The wayward bus suggests that the bus is turned away from the main road, or its destination; wayward being the short form for awayward meaning "turned aside" or "turned away," a word Steinbeck may have encountered in his reading of Malory's Le morte d'Arthur, which reads:

And therewithal she turned her from the window, and Sir Beaumains rode awayward from the castle, making great dole, and so he rode here and there and wist not where he rode, till it was dark night.

Likewise, their location, incidentally the starting point of the bus, is named Rebel Corners, a place historically associated with self-imposed laziness and ignorance.

The wayward bus is in its core an optimistic, hopeful story. As the characters are essentially stuck in the rut temporarily, the novel clearly shows the way out. Nicknamed sweetheart, the bus will eventually go on, and find its way back, away from Rebel Corners and on to its destination, and from there to any other place. Everyone may at some stage find themselves stuck at crossroads, and Steinbeck's message is that love and belonging are the path out of the mire.
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LibraryThing member Carmenere
I like to refer to this book as The Bus of Wayward Dreams. Steinbeck creates a colorful busload of characters like, Juan and Alice Chicoy, Pimples Carson, Bernice, Elliott and Mildred Pritchard, Norma, Camille, Ernest Horton and, last but not least, Van Brunt. All characters seem to hold little in
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common except one integral detail; they are not satisfied with their lives and are on the run to fulfill their desire to make another. When all is said and done and the passengers disembark some lives are indeed changed others, no so. Alice, the character left behind in more ways than one may be the only one not to feel the immediate outcome. Once again, I am in awe of Steinbeck’s ability to describe a scene with the intricacy of a fine paint brush and each character drawn so vividly as to jump from the pages.

Would I recommend………………………..Other than some feminine slurs, which some may take offense to, this is a remarkably well told story which I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member Crazymamie
I finished this book and then actually had to take a day just to ponder how I felt about it. I felt stumped about how I would rate it. It is edgy, and it is darker and more disturbing than Cannery Row, which I read last month. That being said, it is also beautifully written and engrossing.

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Chicoy and his wife Alice own and operate a small service station and restaurant in Rebel Corners. Juan also drives the bus from Rebel Corners to San Juan de la Cruz, making their place a stopover between Greyhound bus stations. As the story opens, travelers have been stranded at the shop over night because of mechanical problems, and so as the reader meets the characters for the first time, they are already on edge. Before they board the bus, and the story really takes off, Norma, the waitress will fight with Alice and quit her job, and Alice and Juan will reveal just how rocky their marriage is. Add one more passenger in the form of Camille- young, blonde, beautiful, and street savvy- and you have a recipe for disaster, or at the least, a very bumpy ride. Before the trip is over, all the characters will be revealed fully, striped down to their basest forms, with no apologies from Steinbeck. It makes the reader feel uncomfortable to see them all in their nakedness - at least, it made me feel uncomfortable.

Is it possible to enjoy a book, but not like the story? I loved the language that Steinbeck used to describe these characters and their surroundings; I was impressed with his ability to delve so deeply into each character's heart and mind and to convey their thought, hopes, and dreams in prose that was so pure and simple, and yet artistic. For example, as Juan prepares to leave Alice alone at the shop, and he is wondering just why he stays with her, Steinbeck writes:

"Because she can cook beans, he said to himself. But there was another reason too. She loved him. She really did. And he knew it. And you can't leave a thing like that. It's a structure and it has an architecture, and you can't leave it without tearing off a piece of yourself. So if you want to remain whole you stay no matter how much you may dislike staying. Juan was not a man who fooled himself very much."

In the end, I was left with a story that I didn't much care for, probably because the characters were, for me, so unlikable - an unpredictable balance of beauty and ugliness that was disconcerting for me. The book, however, lingered. I just couldn't stop thinking about it, and I think that perhaps that is what Steinbeck intended. If so, then the book is a success despite the fact that I didn't like the story. If that makes any sense! I am giving it four stars just for its ability to get under my skin and stay there.
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LibraryThing member jeffome
What a difference a day makes. Great Steinbeck book that takes place in just one day. A neat study of how our destinies can be drastically altered by the simplest of incidents...a bus breakdown, for example. An interesting gathering of characters thrown together and forced to deal with an
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unexpected change of plans leading to varying degrees of hardship and discomfort. Let the fun begin! People are never actually what they seem to be, or try to portray themselves to be, and a monkey wrench thrown into the works shatters many of those fragile little caricatures. Steinbeck has great insight into the human condition and he exhibits that again clearly in this book. . It seems odd that this book is rarely brought up or discussed, yet seems to be just as significant in value as the rest of his works. I certainly will promote it from here on out. Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member villemezbrown
I had never heard of this novel of Steinbeck's, but I'm quite happy I came across it at the library. It is always a pleasure to discover an hidden treasure from a favorite author.

Honestly, though, this is a slow-burn, low-key character study that might drive some people nuts, especially when
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nothing much ever actually happens on the bus ride from nowhere to nowhere. I, however, find Steinbeck's prose style and his timeless insights into human nature enthralling. And if you want to do a deep literary dive, he loads the whole thing with references and symbolism galore, starting with a main character with the initials of J.C.
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LibraryThing member Helenliz
Another Steinbeck as an adult, and this was every bit as good as the first. In one sense not a lot happens. Told over the course of one day, this is more about the people, their motivations and interactions than it has anything to do what they actually do. He explores a whole raft of people, and
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does so convincingly. The bus forms the core of the story, as that's the mechanism that brings the varied cast together. She is almost a character in her own right, having a name. Another great book that I'm glad I've read.
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LibraryThing member fingerpost
Steinbeck is so great, that even a book like this one, which has very little plot, but is more a matter of watching ten characters interact with one another before and during a bus trip, keeps ones interest. For me, the lack of plot keeps it from being a five star book, but I'm glad I read it. It
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did make me think.
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LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
Juan Chicoy and his wife, Alice, run a little lunchroom at Rebel Corners, where the sleek Greyhound bus stops. Juan also drives a patched-up old bus, nothing like a Greyhound, on a local, connecting route that the Greyhound riders need to continue their journeys. WWII is over now, and people have
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places to go, things to see. And they are not at all happy when the bus is delayed because of a mechanical problem and may be further delayed because of storms.

The passengers are a cross-section of humanity, all hiding secrets and sorrows. Juan is fed up with all of his life, especially with abrasive and fragile Alice who tries to bluff and bully her way through all that comes her way.

I am a big Steinbeck fan. I haven't read all of his writing but I've loved the several books I have read. I enjoyed The Wayward Bus but not as much as the others I've read. The characters are all flawed and some show very unexpected behavior by the end of the book. Some of them are at best not very likeable. The problem is that, for me, they didn't have the depth I was expecting from Steinbeck characters. While Juan seemed like a complex person, others were a little more like stereotypes. The writing seemed more dated than most of Steinbeck's writing. While reading, I was imagining an old black-and-white movie, the kind where the actors talk too loud and too fast and overact their roles.

Given that, Steinbeck's lesser (IMHO) writing outshines most writers' best.
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LibraryThing member nkmunn
got this at the steinbeck museum in salinas, the museum gave me a renewed interest in steinbeck and his california and his way of recording the worlds of the people he met. This book was more than I expected in every way, racier, incredibly well set, with the charcters interacting in ways it would
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have been difficult to imagine on your own but understandably with steinbeck's hand at the tiller.
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LibraryThing member andyray
top notch story and a duplicate to the hardback first (#396) in my library.i love to have the softcover first duplicate the hard caover. for a review of the book contents see #396.
LibraryThing member rowfy
The Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck is basically about some ordinary people back in the late 1940s who are thrown together on a bus trip. The bus gets stuck on a muddy road in the middle of nowhere. There is not much Hollywood movie action or danger in this story, but you learn a lot about how people
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think and how they react in different situations. You also get a feel of what life was like back then. If you are young your fave character might be "Pimples" who is 17.
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LibraryThing member LibroLindsay
I should put this under poetry. I should put all Steinbeck under poetry.

One of the unfortunate victims of teaching (and especially student teaching) are the books we seek to read outside of scouring the curriculum day-in and day-out. I started this sorry soul about two months ago, and even though
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my heart swelled each time I picked it up, I was lucky to get a page in between finishing lesson planning at night and passing out as soon as my head hit the pillow. GAH! And so, out of defiance of getting ahead on JC as well as insomnia that is once again rattling my aching brain and soul, I let this book take me until 3 AM when I finally finished it once and for all. Can I get an AMEN?

And up until about where I picked it up last night--about 60 pages from the end--I liked it a whole lot. I was prepared to give it four stars, but I realized when I picked it up again last night that I had hit the story's climax, and everything else came tumbling down in its brilliance and humanity. It's exactly the kind of book I like. It spans the course of one single day; I love that kind of "real" time in a book. And really, it's all about people waiting around for a bus in Steinbeck's good old late 1940s California...that's about it. So ultimately this is a book solely concerned with characterization, and it's obvious that Steinbeck deeply loved every single one. Every character was deeply felt, deeply created; I effortlessly knew them all. And it's all about sex, reminding us how fundamentally hilarious and fundamentally animal a game it really just is. Clark Gable, Mother Mahoney's Home-Baked Pies, whisky, and lipstick. I also realized at the end that Woody Allen got the premise to every one of his movies through this book, which still allows me to enjoy Allen, but it makes me adore Steinbeck, swear my allegiance further.

That's it. My brain's fried. Go read a book for your ol' pal, Lindsay.
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LibraryThing member Stahl-Ricco
My OWCP doc suggested this book and I'm sure glad he did! I already admire Steinbeck immensely and this just adds to it! This tale gives us a deep look at 6 weary travelers, a bus driver, his wife, and his assistant. It also gives us a real look at life in the 1940's in central California, a look
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that seems much more frank and honest than other things I've read of that time. A really good read! Thanks Doc!
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LibraryThing member cherylscountry
Loved this book!!! Love Steinbeck his characters r so real and interresting. I felt like I was in the bus observing all the folks he introduces us to. Do ur self a favor and read this book and his others
LibraryThing member chrisblocker
I've probably said it before, but John Steinbeck was not the writer most of us thought he was. By that I mean that many of us think of Steinbeck rather narrowly. Even I, having read almost everything he has written, tend to think of Steinbeck as a writer of realist fiction of downtrodden farmers
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and paisanos. But from To a God Unknown to Burning Bright, Steinbeck's style has never been quite so easy to nail down.

The Wayward Bus is one of the novels that defies our perception of Steinbeck. This is most evident in the way the story is told, a continually roving character study. The narrative jumps from character to character as they prepare, then embark on a bus journey during a potentially dangerous rainstorm. Steinbeck rarely spends as much as two pages on any particular character before he's moving down the line, giving the perspective of the next character, then the next. Never do I recall in a work of Steinbeck any such character roulette. And it works magnificently for this book with its strangers-on-a-journey motif.

And these are great characters with so much potential. Characters who act contrary to their beliefs. Characters who put on airs. Characters who are so realistic because each one tries to convey their insignificance while unconsciously acting on the knowledge that they are the center of the universe.

The Wayward Bus was well on its way to being one of my all-time favorite Steinbeck reads, but toward the end, the book itself modeled the journey: it lost traction and went off the road. The problem is that the end is rushed. The reader spends so much time getting to know these characters and all their quirks, that once the characters face their greatest challenge, it's time for the story to conclude. The conflict you anticipate for a couple hundred pages fizzles. Also, I was personally disappointed that the story never returned to Alice, the only significant character who is not a passenger on the bus. Overall, I thought the resolution was poor.

Unfortunately, The Wayward Bus is sort of forgettable. So much time is spent with each character's thoughts that little action occurs. Normally, I like stories like this when there is a pay-off, but the conclusion is flat. Still, I liked The Wayward Bus if for no reason other than the build-up. Steinbeck was on to something with this style, but he might have lost interest in the project before he finished, or maybe he was just unable to translate his idea for the conclusion to the page. Whatever the reason, The Wayward Bus is every bit a Steinbeck tale, but parallel to none other.
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LibraryThing member over.the.edge
# 16 of 100 Classics Challenge

The Wayward Bus🍒🍒🍒🍒
By John Steinbeck

When Steinbeck wrote ' The Wayward Bus', post WW II, the values of honesty and character were prevalent. Brought to light in this beautiful written novel are the adversity of personalities and lifestyles pulled
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together through circumstance. Centered in San Ysidro, Rebel Corners is a luncheonette and tranfer point to catch a bus to the town. The travellers are forced to spend a night together in the luncheonette due to mechanical problems with the bus. Finally boarding the bus, this group of discontented passengers with quite diverse backgrounds and lifestyles are forced to weather the storm and they find that maybe the one thing we have in common isn't our title or what we are...but who we allow ourselves to be.
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LibraryThing member thorold
On the face of it, this is just a version of that rather hackneyed plot device — more popular on stage and screen than in novels — where you bring an apparently random bunch of strangers together and put them under pressure in some unexpected way to see what happens. In this case the driver and
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passengers on a bus making a cross-country journey in California at a moment when the rivers are up and the bridges liable to collapse at any moment.

Of course, Steinbeck uses the situation to dig into a whole range of social problems of the USA in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Slightly surprisingly, perhaps, he focusses in particular on the situation of his female characters. You could almost claim this as a feminist novel, in that it talks about the disconnect between women's aspirations and the roles actually available to them in forties society, and shows us something of what it must feel like to be on the receiving end of unwanted male sexual attention. But there's probably also a strong element of male fantasy in the way these things are worked out. And how does Steinbeck know what women talk about in the ladies' toilets, unless he was listening behind the door...?

I loved Steinbeck's close attention to the natural and man-made background of rural California: from the details of the mechanical work being done on Juan's old bus to the fabulous thumbnail survey of the ecology of a roadside verge, it all feels totally convincing and well-observed, and it cleverly plays into the mood and timing of the foreground story.
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LibraryThing member ChelleBearss
I love how Steinbeck takes the simplest story and turns it into something completely absorbing. There are some amazing reviews added already from the Steinbeckathon group so I won't bother to add anymore, other than saying I thought this was a book worth reading. I read it at work on a 12 hour
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nightshift so it won't take much of your time to read. So read it already! ;)
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LibraryThing member JBreedlove
A bus becomes lost and the lives, desires, and dreams of the passengers interact revealing themselves as they never had before. A clssic of character development.
LibraryThing member JBarringer
This book reminds me a lot of the Bridge of San Luis Rey, enough that I was waiting for the bus to be swept away by the collapsing bridge for much of the story. The characters included quite a few I found annoying, though the way they interacted was amusing. This one's not as good as East of Eden
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or Winters of Our Discontent, but among his shorter novels this one's pretty good.
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