This book buried itself in my heart. I forced myself to pace through it, to cherish it, to stretch out the experience for as long as possible because I could have hungrily ripped through the 600 pages in a day. I haven’t come across a novel in such a long time that had me savoring every sentence. Every passage was beautifully constructed and profound. The writing is so good, it makes you never want to attempt the craft yourself. I would clutch it to my chest as traumatic and tense scenes unfolded. It made me sigh, smile, laugh, cry and most importantly it made me wonder.. about life, destiny, dreams, love, good and evil.
The story follows the interconnected lives of two families during the 19th to 20th centuries in the Salinas Valley in California. The characters are so vividly portrayed and so finely crafted that they are truly living and breathing human beings that get lodged in your memory. Steinbeck has an immense gift in delving in to the psychology of his characters, especially in Cathy Trask who is the most frightening yet captivating character I have come across. Steinbeck also takes a microscopic look at relationships in ways that make you start analyzing your own. I was particularly intrigued by the deeply conflicted brotherhood of Adam and Charles Trask. And of course how can I not mention Lee, the Chinese servant and lovable philosopher who triggers the most wondering and pondering on life’s mysteries. The great cast of characters satiated my fascination for the complexity of human personality, what drives people to do what they do, and what makes them who they are.
And finally what about the prevailing theme of the novel? There is a strong allusion to the biblical stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. So is evil inherited (original sin?) Are you doomed to become like your forefathers? Are you forever beholden to everyone’s expectations of you? Can you redirect your destiny and create your own future? There are many tragic and powerful scenes in which the characters make (bad/good/tough/brave/cruel) choices and also many times in which they stand by, become complacent, and are swallowed by the tide of indecision.
It reminded me of what a friend had said to me and that I come back to often. I think I was complaining about how I had to do something or other. She said, “Girl, you don’t ever HAVE to do anything.” Everything is a choice even if it feels like a burdensome responsibility. Once you see it as a choice you are making (even if unconsciously and regardless of how you feel about it), you’re no longer a victim of fate. Of course their are consequences and of course instinctive choices are driven by circumstances out of our control. But it’s a liberating feeling to know you can choose and that everything that you do or don’t do is a choice.