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This article by Melissa Hart first appeared in the June 12, 2017 issue of High Country News with the title “Monterey Bay's Cannery Row.”

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Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, revisited

A new book examines six decades of transformation in Monterey, California.

Monterey Bay in 1973.
Herbert Maruska/CC Flickr

If a city’s planners are savvy, they’ll adapt to the ebb and flow of natural resources with entrepreneurial vision. When the logging industry collapsed in Oakridge, Oregon, the town reinvented itself as a haven for mountain bikers. Downtown Tacoma, Washington — once shattered by depression and crime — now revolves around the Museum of Glass made famous by artist Dale Chihuly, who was born in the city.

Monterey, California, represents one of the most successful examples of the resuscitation of a struggling city. The rough-and-tumble fish-processing town made famous by John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel Cannery Row is all but unrecognizable today as a glitzy tourist destination — a transformation that Lindsey Hatton explores in her debut novel, Monterey Bay. In a story that begins in 1940 and concludes in 1998, she chronicles the process of gentrification and its various losses and gains, both economic and social.

Her aged protagonist, Margot Fiske, looks back on the Cannery Row of her youth: “And here in the weeds and ice plants, in the rusty metal that smells salty in the sun and bloody in the fog, she dreams of everything that has slipped away.”

Hatton’s story begins when the 15-year-old Margot arrives in Monterey at the start of World War II with her father, an entrepreneur who specializes in “industrial transformations.” He purchases the largest cannery in town, with intentions that his daughter believes to be nefarious, and he orders her to assist an influential marine biologist with his tidepool collections.

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