(A scan of my actual copy of East of Eden)

I believe there are monsters born in the 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 punishment 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 and produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?”

East of Eden is not a subtle book. I usually like subtle. Philosophy is bluntly spoken, not intricately woven in.  It is Good vs. Evil, in your face.  There are biblical references out the whazoo.

But it isn’t black and white.  Good doesn’t always triumph, and when it does, someone still gets hurt.

This is a family saga, or perhaps a dual-family saga, or perhaps a region saga.. is that possible?  This is the story of the Trasks, destined to replay the story of Cain and Abel, whether in Connecticut or California.  It is the story of the Hamiltons, the large Irish family in California, jovial and tragic.  It is the story of the Salinas Valley, hot and fertile and set in its ways.

I shared a scan of my exact copy of the book because it seemed to hold a strange power.  When I opened it, I saw all of California spread out before me.  Then I zoomed in slowly, past fields and mountains… finally reaching the Salinas Valley.  There, I sat unnoticed in a corner,  watching two familiar families intertwine, pull apart, grow, falter.

Literally.  That’s what it was like. I got sucked in. I didn’t like all of the characters. They each had their flaws, their strengths. But even the ones I didn’t like.. I enjoyed reading about. I think this might be the first book of this size (700 pages in my old, thick, mass-market paperback) where every page was important, where every interaction was significant and yet.. part of everyday life. Many of the characters live their whole lives in the pages of this book, so I began to feel like they were intimate friends.

So yes, read it.  And then.. read about it. While the Trask family is made up, the Hamilton family is based off of Steinbeck’s own relatives. He wrote it for his sons, to let them know where and who they’re from.  Pretty cool.  And it’s going on my ‘favorites’ shelf.

Have you read East of Eden?  Did it draw you in as well?  Did the lack of subtlety bother you?  Is The Grapes of Wrath just as fascinating?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.