I’ve read The Pearl. I’ve finished 80% of The Grapes of Wrath. But I’ve never tackled any of Steinbeck’s other works. Then came my book club’s pick for July, East of Eden. I didn’t realize how long it is until I plucked it off the shelf at my library. I was excited (I love long books) but also worried (bad long books are grueling reads). Sadly, my worries paid out more than my excitement.
The first chapter opens with a brilliant setting of the topography and geography of the Salinas valley and West-Central California. Having been to the Salinas valley and lived in Central California, Steinbeck painted it exactly as I remember. One can tell from reading it that he has a connection to the place. How else can you capture the beauty and the essence of it?
But then the whole thing fell apart. There were chapters that did not forward the plot. I’m still trying to figure out why he felt he needed to include them and the random details they shared. And the way in which he wraps up the entire tome with a neat ending was aggravating. I ended up giving it a 3 out of 5 stars. I just feel that he seemed to be writing to impress himself. He even goes so far as to include a character named John Steinbeck into the plot. Yet this isn’t non-fiction.
There were moments of brilliant artistry that made me want to give this a five stars. What ends up being a modern retelling (twist?) on the Cain and Abel story ends up being a meander through philosophy, California history, Steinbeck’s own life, and religion. The lack of organization and the odd way Steinbeck writes women kept me from really appreciating this book. I’m glad I read it, if just for the moments Steinbeck captured California and some of the characters.