The epic tale of Adam Trask, cuckolded husband to a whore and father of twin boys, one dark, one light.
I’m rather embarrassed to confess East of Eden is the first Steinbeck I have ever read. Big deal, you say–except I majored in American Studies in college with a focus on how literature and popular culture reveal sociological truths about the American people. I was obsessed with writers like Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser. I was enamored of post-Industrial Revolution American life. It makes no sense at all–none, I tell you!–that I never once considered reading a book by John Steinbeck. I probably would’ve lost my mind with delirious delight. I bet I would’ve gone to grad school for American Studies instead of Cinema Studies. Steinbeck totally could’ve wooed me away from Hitchcock. Lewis and Dreiser just weren’t potent enough.
I am a born ‘n’ bred East Coast girl. I’ve been to LA a few times, but in my mind California has always been someplace you go to, not someplace you come from. The idea that California has people and history and a story has never quite seemed real to me. Of course, I have lots of friends who moved to New York from California (and one or two who boomeranged back). And I find it amazing that their roots are so far West, that they feel the heimlisch tug of tradition to a place that makes me think only of reinvention, and starting over.
East of Eden is steeped in California, the California I suspect my friends know a little something about. I lost myself in Steinbeck’s descriptions of a rough-hewn land rising into respectability, and in specificities of the characters he created. These people aren’t Chicago charlatans or Midwestern Boosters. They’re California people telling a California story–which, incidentally, is the only way to tell the American story, don’t you think?
Notice I haven’t attempted an actual review. Just doesn’t seem appropriate, somehow, to try to distill an epic work into a set of glib observations or, even worse, facile judgment. That’s not why reading the classics is important to me as an adult (who will never go back to school). Whenever I finish a book like this I feel a sense of relief, as if to say, “Finally, now I have this book and I can read about it at last.” The door has been opened. Steinbeck is less of a mystery. How lucky am I!