I read this one a long time ago when I get on a Steinbeck kick after visiting his stomping grounds in California. I read it more carefully and slowly this time. This Biblical family sage deserves to be called an epic – in terms of time and place and even ideas. We read as generations beget new generations, as families follow the country from east to west and as the world moves from one war (Civil) to another (WW1).
Steinbeck is not afraid of thinking and subsequently writing big. Characters think about things like good and evil and the meaning of the land. They think and talk about right and wrong and parenting, and too much of this can come across as moralizing, didactic, and lacking subtlety. That’s what came of reading too many Steinbecks in a row.
But reading this, I admired Steinbeck’s scope and ambition. The characters resonated with me and the novel, at just over 600 pages, moved quickly. Steinbeck challenges us to choose to be the best part of ourselves. As modernism (and increasing cynicism) became the trend in literature, perhaps we began to scoff at something so simple and so wonderful. I can’t wait to watch the movie again.