Published in 1935, Tortilla Flat was Steinbeck’s first major critical success. And if you mistakenly believe that Tortilla Flat is a Medieval romance, you are easily forgiven — what with its thees and thous and thys, with its lovemaking and chivalry, its high adventure and quest for treasures, and its mystical, fog-shrouded settings.
No, Tortilla Flat is a 190-proof paean to wine.
Unlike Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where wine is a subtle fruity accent in an otherwise dark, creepy atmosphere, the pages of Tortilla Flat are veritably soaked in the stuff. Now, you had better be damn well impressed to learn that there are 148 direct references to wine in Tortilla Flat. I counted them. 148! In a book of only 207 pages. And this is a conservative estimate! As I learned while loafing about Tortilla Flat, there are many ways to refer to wine without actually referring to it.
Interestingly, of the 17 chapters only two are free from the influence of wine. But this is entirely consistent with good breeding, as one chapter deals with the death of a pale sickly baby boy, and the other with a band of paisanos rushing to the aid of a lady in distress — a one Teresina, a mother of eight who mysteriously becomes pregnant with her ninth.
Of course, the lesson here is obvious: before the great mysteries of love and death, one had better have a clear head.