East of Eden by John Steinbeck

What a glorious feeling…

😐 😐

The story of how two generations of an extended family live their lives in misery and strife, and then die, usually horribly.

By the time Cyrus was released from the hospital and the army, his gonorrhoea was dried up. When he got home to Connecticut there remained only enough of it for his wife.

I give up. In The Grapes of Wrath at least there was some glorious writing amid the misery, but here the writing ranges from mediocre to poor, with some of the most unrealistic dialogue I’ve ever read. The Chinaman who manages to convey all the worst stereotyping while supposedly showing how silly the stereotyping is. The ranchers who sit around discussing the meaning of the Bible, including varying translations of the original Hebrew. The spell-it-out-in-case-you-miss-it religious symbolism laid on with a trowel. The women who are all victims or whores or both. The casual racism. And the misery. The misery. Oh, woe is me, the misery!

First there were Indians, an inferior breed without energy, inventiveness, or culture, a people that lived on grubs and grasshoppers and shellfish, too lazy to hunt or fish. They ate what they could pick up and planted nothing. They pounded bitter acorns for flour. Even their warfare was a weary pantomime.

Looking at my notes for my first reading session of about fifty pages, I see that one man lost his leg in war, one wife died of suicide after contracting gonorrhoea from her adulterous husband, wife #2 is dying of consumption, one brother beat another to a pulp, and a father has gone off after his son with a shotgun. Admittedly no one could say nothing ever happens, but it’s hardly a barrel of laughs. At this point I was wondering if the rise in use of anti-depressants could be dated to the time when Steinbeck was included on the curricula of schools and colleges.

“Lee,” he said at last, “I mean no disrespect, but I’ve never been able to figure why you people still talk pidgin when an illiterate baboon from the black bogs of Ireland, with a head full of Gaelic and a tongue like a potato, learns to talk a poor grade of English in ten years.”
Lee grinned. “Me talkee Chinese talk,” he said.

Then there’s the evil woman – you know, the one who destroys good men by tempting them with her nasty womanly sex stuff. Not that I’d call Steinbeck a misogynist, exactly – he really hates all of humanity. But his hatred of men is pretty much all to do with violence and greed while with his women it’s all to do with sex and with their little habit of causing the downfall of men. Not that the women enjoy any of it – by my reckoning at least three of them killed themselves, a couple contracted sexually transmitted diseases, several were beaten up by various men and the solitary “happy” one had a stream of children and spent her entire life in drudgery, cooking and cleaning and then watching her children go off and make a miserable mess of their lives.

The boys exchanged uneasy glances. It was their first experience with the inexorable logic of women, which is overwhelming even, or perhaps especially, when it is wrong. This was new to them, exciting and frightening.

Book 56 of 90

I do feel sorry for Steinbeck – I assume he must have had a rotten life. But I’ve decided to stop allowing him to strangle my hard won joie de vivre while emptying my half-full glass. I finished this one, and sadly feel that it wasn’t worth the effort – and boy, was it an effort! Into each life some rain must fall, for sure, but Steinbeck is a deluge. I’m putting up my umbrella, and writing Steinbeck off my TBR permanently. And I feel happier already…

There is great safety for a shy man with a whore. Having been paid for, and in advance, she has become a commodity, and a shy man can be gay with her and even brutal to her. Also, there is none of the horror of the possible turndown which shrivels the guts of timid men.

Poor Steinbeck.

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52 thoughts on “East of Eden by John Steinbeck

  1. That really does sound like something to put you off Steinbeck forever 😩I’m not surprised you’ve given up. On a lighter note, I love that Singing in the Rain clip…and to think he did it while full of a cold!

  2. I’ve enjoyed the little I’ve read of Steinbeck, but not this one, and both were read years ago. I’m interested in what I would think now. Thoughtful review, FF. It’s good to make room for authors who fit better with our preferences.

    • It’s definitely one of those strange allergic reactions with me – the more I read of him, the more he annoys me, so I think I’ve reached a point of not being able to give him a fair hearing any more. So I’ll leave him to the millions who love him, and move on! 😀

  3. So…another unhappy interlude with Steinbeck, FictionFan? It’s true his stories are not exactly uplifting, and this one in particular is, pessimistic. Okay, thoroughly depressing. You make some good points about the way Steinbeck treats both men and women here, too. I didn’t see that so clearly in some of his other work, but I can see your point here. Let me guess…this wouldn’t make your GAN list, would it?

    • It’s definitely become a sort of allergic reaction with me now – I expect to find him miserably depressing, and so I do. I think I’m past the point of being fair about him, so there’s no point in continuing to try to learn to love him, I feel! I do agree that I certainly didn’t notice that he treated the characters in The Grapes of Wrath with such contempt, men or women, but it was the horrible misogyny that made me abandon Cannery Row. He seems to equate the words “woman” and “whore” too often and too easily for my liking. Hahaha – it crossed my mind to see how he fared against the GAN criteria, but it seemed too cruel… 😉

  4. 😖 😞 😟 No wonder you turned to Singing in the Rain. Good call.
    The only book I read by Steinbeck is Of Mice and Men. I’m content with that being the only book.

  5. I have loved me other Steinbeck reads even if they were depressing. I thought his writing was excellent. I meant to get around to this one but ummm no thanks. This sounds horrible! If those quotes were indicative of this book (and I am assuming they are because ye pick good ones) then I am going to take this one off the list and be happier for it. Excellent review matey!
    x The Captain

    • Thank you! But don’t let me put you off this one – I’ve developed a sort of allergic reaction to Steinbeck now and I don’t think I’m capable of writing a balanced review about him any more. The only one I enjoyed was The Grapes of Wrath and even with it, I criticised it pretty heavily! So if you’ve enjoyed his other stuff, you might still enjoy this… despite the misery! 😉

  6. Nope. I don’t need a misery read right now. I can’t remember what Steinbeck I read in school, but I can promise you there won’t be any in the future for pleasure.

    • I really find a lot of what he says pretty repugnant, so I’m certainly not the best person to recommend him! But if you do decide to try one sometime, I’d say go for The Grapes of Wrath – also completely depressing but there is some beautiful writing in it…

  7. You finished it?? I’m stunned. I’d have thought this one would almost turn a person off reading! And yet you gave it two stars. Hm, seems to me it was worth a minus-star rating (but I guess that’s not really an option, huh?) Nobody should have to trudge through such misery, FF — kudos to you for the old college try!

    • Hahaha – I nearly gave it one star, but I usually reserve that for books that I abandon or that are really terribly badly written, so it seemed a bit harsh! But I fear Steinbeck and I are never destined to be friends… 😉

  8. There’s no point in persevering with an author you know is not for you, when there are so many other books to be read! I actually really liked this one, but I hated The Pearl so I think I need to try at least one more of his books before I make up my mind about him.

    • I think I’ve reached a point where I expect to hate his books and therefore I do – it’s become an allergy now! I actually enjoyed the writing in The Pearl better than in this one, but again hated the utterly bleak view of humanity he has. We’re bad, but not that bad… 😉 I’ve still not read a lot of his stuff, but the only one I’d recommend is The Grapes of Wrath – there was still a lot in it that annoyed me, and it’s utterly depressing, but some of the writing is glorious…

  9. I had lunch with a friend this summer and she was reading East of Eden at the time and spent a good deal of time ranting about it – I might have to send her this review! Fortunately, I read East of Eden way back in high school when I was a less discerning reader and you’ve certainly convinced me that I never need to read it again.

    • Ha – I’m glad I’m not the only one he makes rant! I might have enjoyed it more in high school – I loved Of Mice and Men back then – but now I find his utterly bleak view of humanity too un-nuanced and not at all realistic.

  10. Luckily there are plenty of books out there to suit all tastes, and life is definitely too short to spend much of it on books that don’t promote pleasure or stimulate interest. However, the occasional read of something unsettling, challenging, poorly written etc does focus the mind & make you appreciate all the books that you enjoy 🙂

    • Yes, I’m glad to have read a few Steinbecks even if they gave me very little pleasure, but enough is enough! I do agree though that a constant diet of “safe” stuff that you know you’ll enjoy makes reading stale after a while – I prefer books that I hate to the ones that make me feel nothing at all… 😀

  11. Oh god. I’ve never read this book, and felt guilty about it because it’s a ‘classic’, but you’ve absolved me of that because it sounds horrendous. I know I won’t like it, so I appreciate you getting through it to the other side to warn us off it haha

    • Yes, I always felt I “ought” to have read more Steinbeck, so at least now I can tick that box and move on! If you ever do decide you must read him, then go for The Grapes of Wrath – also utterly depressing, but I thought the writing was vastly better than in this… But on the other hand, you could just never read him at all – that would be my advice… 😉

  12. Fantastic review, FF! I always love the way you fail to pull your punches and usually things I wanted to say but wasn’t allowed. I did read some Steinbeck, so long ago I’ve forgotten which. I saw the movie, however, after all Jimmy Dean was in it. But I remember it as dark, noir dark. I always wonder how some of these writers or books ever got a classic status.

    • Thank you! 😀 Haha – I do seem to get a bit brutal when a book annoys me, don’t I? I haven’t seen the film – I was planning to watch it after I read the book, but now I don’t think I could bear to, not even with James Dean in it! I often wonder what turns a book into a classic – there have been several that I’ve read that have left me scratching my head as to what people see in them…

  13. The only Steinbeck I’ve ever read was his unfinished rewrite of Malory’s Morte Darthur when I was in my full-on Arthurian phase in the 70s. If only he stuck to updating medieval stories, methinks…

    • I didn’t know he’d done anything like that – intriguing, but not intriguing enough to make me break my – no-Steinbeck-ever-again vow, I fear! 😉 I did sort of enjoy The Grapes of Wrath – well, it might be truer to say I appreciated it – but it’s been downhill ever since for me. The only time my life feels as bleak as a Steinbeck novel is when I’m actually reading a Steinbeck novel… 😉

  14. I reckon you’ve given Steinbeck a fair shot, so I wouldn’t feel too bad about writing him off now. These quotes are quite enough to convince me I would really not get on with East of Eden at all. The suffering of characters is of course an essential part of drama, but for me, it needs to be counterbalanced with a degree of hope, which I think was possibly an alien concept for Steinbeck.

    • Yes, I had included him on my challenge of authors I’d like to get to know better, but having got to know him better, I’m now wishing I hadn’t… 😉 That’s exactly it for me – a completely bleak view of humanity is as untrue as the cosiest of cosies. I always have a problem with books where the author forgets to show balance and Steinbeck takes it to extremes. Back to a nice murder mystery now – even homicide is less depressing than Steinbeck…

  15. Oh my goodness, now I’m questioning myself! I read this back in 2007 and gave it four stars, oh no! Honestly, sadly, I don’t even remember much about it or why I liked it. But I think you’re safe to not try any more Steinbeck. 🙂

    • Hahaha – don’t question yourself! You’re in the majority – it has an amazing number of positive reviews on Goodreads. Clearly I just have an allergic reaction to him – I hate books that give a totally bleak view of humanity, since I don’t share that view myself. I feel my life will immediately be less bleak if I just ensure Steinbeck never sneaks onto my TBR again… 😉

  16. I read this as a youngster, but opposite Of Mice and Men, I remember next to nothing about it, besides from the fact I quite liked it. For mysterious and inexplicably reasons, your review actually gave me the urge to reread (don’t ask…).

    • Hahahaha! Well, I’m kinda glad, because I don’t really like putting people off classics since clearly loads of people have loved them and my reaction is purely subjective… or in this case, allergic! I did love Of Mice and Men when I read I at school, but I suspect I’d find it emotionally manipulative and horribly bleak too now, so I’ve ruled out a re-read – I’ll let my one good Steinbeck experience rest undisturbed… 😉

  17. I’m glad Stargazer is at least thinking of re-reading this one because despite your review I still feel bound to read it for myself. At least I’m forewarned …. 🙄

  18. Very thought-provoking. I read and loved this and OMAM thirty years ago. I loved all the discussion about religious interpretation in particular. But then I tried to read GoW a few years ago and hated every single moment of it. Bleak, unrelenting misery from start to finish and that was me done with Steinbeck. Although I have wondered what a reread of EoE would reveal…?

    • I hated the misery in GoW too, although I did think some of the descriptive writing was wonderful. This one isn’t quite so miserable in that no-one actually starves, but the writing is merely workmanlike and the suicide rate seems extraordinarily high! There was one character he introduced merely in order to have her kill herself three pages later. Unfortunately, it was so crassly done it made me laugh instead of crying… 😂

  19. I enjoyed East of Eden when I read it just some months ago, but I do agree with you on many points. Even though I do recognise it as a classic, I also think it is a very, hugely problematic book filled with character stereotypes from which the author failed to move on. The one thing I disliked is obviously the presentation of Cathy. Her character makes zero sense, full stop, and no one will ever convince me otherwise. No matter how deprived or evil someone is by nature I just cannot believe they would choose a harder and much harsher life on purpose when they have a sweet alternative to lead an easy life filled with riches without a care in the world. It makes zero sense – and on this basis I don’t think Steinbeck is strong on the portrayal of the human nature. The story and characters have to be believable, and Steinbeck failed to convince me there.

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