Wednesday, August 05, 2009

East of Eden

Take your major American fiction writers of first half of the twentieth century: Fitzgerald remains my favorite and even though I enjoyed The Bear, I’m still least taken with Faulkner; Flannery O’ Conner always blows me away although short stories don’t really count; I’m only tepid about Hemingway, despite my love for A Moveable Feast; many years ago, I plodded through Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again, and remember being quite moved, if sometimes bored; I used to be a big Dos Passos fan; I’ve read Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, but only because some reviewer compared a Woody Allen to it; Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is certainly a contender for the Great American Novel, but that’s all he wrote; Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here was one of my favorite books for a few weeks; and I never really got into Henry Miller, even though we lived in Paris on the cheap.

That leaves Steinbeck, who I’ve always appreciated, but have never really gotten into; I cried at the movie version of Of Mice and Men, and enjoyed reading Cannery Row, but I hardly remember reading The Grapes of Wrath in tenth grade, and I never even got around to East of Eden until these past two weeks.

But now I’ve finished it, and I must say, I thought it was great—in the old-fashioned sense of “great,” not like, “Oh, that Adam Sandler movie was great.”

The historical and emotional scope of the novel is immense and even though, at times, it does seem like the characters are written in service to Steinbeck’s larger message, they usually remain complex, compelling, and intensely human. I wouldn’t say the dialogue is always scintillating, but where Steinbeck does excel is in his descriptions of place and time.

He evokes a powerful longing in the reader for a world that once was and a way of life that was somehow larger-than-life; a biblical story, better than the original.


Blogger MichaelR said...

Steinbeck wrote "Parable of Laziness" the all time best indictment of busyness.

After reading it the phrase "and the rug will not be bothered at all." will forever be special.

7:44 PM  

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