Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Book 10

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

In my teenage angst years I made two attempts at reading this novel. They were inconclusive - I never finished the 601 pages and felt my brain swollen from too much information. But finally, a few years later and with a new understanding for great literature, I've managed to read (and enjoy) East of Eden.

John Steinbeck's writing is absolutely eloquent: there are words in this novel I've never seen or heard before and I had a dictionary at hand for many nights of reading. But mostly I find it incredible at his development of characters. Regardless of a large or small part in the novel, each character is well-developed; Joe Valery, an escaped convict and bodyguard at the neighbourhood whorehouse, even has a story. And while Steinbeck doesn't take away too much from the main characters, he is able to tell Joe's story well enough to have us show interest. Also, the overall uniformity between East of Eden and the story of the brothers Cain and Abel (a biblical tale) is so well done that throughout East of Eden there is a yearning from certain characters to belong and to be accepted. Some are and succeed, others aren't and fail, and vice versa.

There are so many quotes I could pull from the novel. One section in particular focuses on introducing Cathy Ames, the antagonist throughout and in the lives of the Hamilton and Trask families. But instead of describing first her appearance and demeanor, he writes about his opinion of evil in order to give an understanding of the particular evil of Cathy.

"I believe there are monsters born into he world to human parents. Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies; some are born with no arms, no legs, some with three arms, some with tails or mouths in odd places. They are accidents and no one's fault, as used to be thought. Once they were considered the visible punishments for concealed sins.
And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?
Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree. As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience. A man who loses his arm in an accident has a great struggle to adjust himself to the lack, but one born without arms suffers only from people who find him strange. Having never had arms, he cannot miss them. Sometimes when we are little we imagine how it would be to have wings, but there is no reason to suppose it is the same feeling birds have. No, to a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare with others. To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.
It is my belief that Cathy Ames was born with the tendencies..."

I've read many books and a few have inspired me to write better, to explore my imagination and express that imagination in a story. But Steinbeck, as of now, has to be on top of those inspiring authors. If not for the story itself, for the way to which he delivers it. Read it, you won't be at all disappointed, provided that you can stick with the 600 pages.

** 10 books read on my 25 before 25 list. I need to pick up the pace. **

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