Some stories can be entertaining in any reasonably skilled writer’s hands. Man fights dragon, small group of survivors face zombies in a post-apocalyptic world, evil space aliens kidnap science crew…these stories practically write themselves, if not especially well.
But some stories shouldn’t even be considered, much less attempted, unless a writer can be fairly certain that they’re at the top of their game. Man argues with God. Some folks get on a bus and drive around for a while. These are stories that only work when handled with grace and skill that most writers never even approach.
Fortunately, The Wayward Bus is written by John Steinbeck, who’s more than up to the challenge. Those only familiar with Steinbeck’s writing from driven, socially-involved works like The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men may be surprised at this rambling, incomplete journey. From a certain perspective, The Wayward Bus is hardly a story at all, just a collection of idle character studies. The effortless blending of those character studies hides the greater story that forms from their merging.
There is no great point to The Wayward Bus, no cry for government intervention or more worker empowerment or better behavior. It’s a treat to watch Steinbeck just roll out his writing, ponder on the nature of romance or female friendships, or watch the rain pelt against the windshield. The Wayward Bus in fact has a point and a direction, but it’s a rounded point and meandering direction, easily lost in the enjoyment of witnessing characters share a piece of pie or the mud soaking through canvas pants.
Few writers can carry a book on the strength of literary grace alone, but Steinbeck is one of those writers. Readers seeking drama and adventure won’t find it here. But those in the mood to just curl up with a book and enjoy a story for a while may enjoy their trip on The Wayward Bus.