East of Eden

by John Steinbeck (1952)


I won’t try to compete with all of the much more knowledgeable analyses, but I will record my thoughts. I loved the characters and the story. Steinbeck’s prose is better than most, but his deeply humanistic characterizations are exceptional. Samuel Hamilton and Lee are the obvious favorites, but even Cal and Charles were well-drawn. I was a little frustrated that Adam Trask became mostly a vapid presence for the last half of the book.

The philosophy was a bit too on the nose for me, and conversely it sometimes strayed into esoteric vagueness. Relatedly, the dialogue was stilted during these sections, essentially becoming academic sermons. Steinbeck continues to underwrite female characters, and while the monstrous Cathy was compellingly drawn, she does reinforce the misogynistic Eve archetype — I’ll be charitable and chalk it up mostly to the defective source material.

Overall I liked this a lot, loving parts of it but not the overall experience. I’m glad to have read it though; it was overdue. I would say if you liked The Grapes of Wrath you should read this one too. If you didn’t, don’t. If you haven’t, do, then decide.

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