Book Report

With Steinbeck in the Sea of Cortez: A memoir of the Steinbeck/Rickets Expedition. By Audry Lynch, based on interviews with Sparky Enea. Published 1991, 78 pages. $10.
BY: JEANNINE PEREZ

This book, published some years after the death of John Steinbeck, was written by Audry Lynch, a devoted fan of the author and his many works. She wrote this short book after conducting countless interviews with Sparky Enea, a Sicilian fisherman who was Steinbeck's deckhand (and his reluctant cook).

The setting of the book is a 75-foot purse seiner named the Western Flyer, which was headed for the Sea of Cortez on a research expedition. This account of that journey is reputed to be the only real and true story of what happened on the trip (according to Sparky). It is an anecdotal description of the characters and the events that occurred on Steinbeck's famous Baja trip on the Sea of Cortez. There are also some menus of Sparky’s meals.

Steinbeck, his wife Carol, Edward "Doc" Ricketts and five others spent the spring of 1940 collecting marine specimens in the Sea of Cortez. Steinbeck was already famous in the United States after writing "Tortilla Flat," "Of Mice and Men," and "The Grapes of Wrath.” He wanted some time out of the limelight, and some privacy as well. Carol supposedly went on the voyage as the cook but, according to Sparky, she cooked only one dish during the whole voyage (a delicious lemon meringue pie). Sparky then realized that he had been delegated to do all the cooking during the journey.

Sparky was a small person, only 5-foot-1, but he was very popular with the opposite sex. He was called Sparky after an old Barney Google cartoon character, Sparkplug. He and the other fishermen on Cannery Row already knew Steinbeck, who was not at all popular with them. The fishermen called Steinbeck a "radical" because he was associated with a union organizer, and the fishermen were afraid of losing control of their ability to elect their own local officials. Still, a job was a job, and Sparky reluctantly agreed to go with Steinbeck on the expedition.

This book is short but interesting, with many black and white photos of the characters in this saga interspersed with a variety of stories and gossipy tidbits from Sparky. The book is written from his perspective, although I suspect that Lynch edited some of Sparky’s language and perhaps toned down his narrative. Another account of the voyage that I read, told from a different perspective, used much more “earthy” language.

This book sounds much more civilized and cleaned up than the first account I read. The language Lynch uses as the voice of Sparky does not quite sound, to me, like the words of a sailor who didn’t finish high school, and who reportedly didn't like Steinbeck or approve of his wife Carol, because she didn't do her appointed job of cooking the meals! Still, it’s a very interesting story and one worth reading.

You can find "With Steinbeck in the Sea of Cortez" at El Caballo Blanco, my bookstore in Loreto (I have only two copies), or you can find it online. If you’ve read the book and want to discuss it, drop me a line at betojeannine@google.com. ,