I made chicken with creamy pan sauce. I made a pumpkin pie. I made a batch of cookys for Yuri, (this time with white chocolate chips, regular chocolate chips, and pecans.) Right now, there are sweet potato fries in the oven seasoned with curry, cumin, and salt n’ pepper (plus some finely diced red onion) and this morning, there was a cheesy omelette for the man.
All the while, I thought of East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. I’m reading it. And if you have ever read it — or ever read any genius work of fiction, I mean really the cream of the genius crop — you know what I mean when I say I’m only half in my world. The other half of me in the Salinas Valley around the turn of the last century.
Have you read this book? Have you ever? You must. Do not delay. Put aside any non-crucial tasks for the next week and take up East of Eden. I can’t see how this novel could not enrich a person’s life.
Look at this:
“Tom, the third son, was most like his father. He was born in fury and he lived in lightning. Tom came headling into life. He was a giant in joy and enthusiasms. He didn’t discover the world and it’s people, he created them. When he read his father’s books, he was the first. He lived in a world shining and fresh and as uninspected as Eden on the sixth day. His mind plunged like a colt in a happy pasture, and when later the world put up fences he plunged against the wire, and when the final stockade surrounded him, he plunged right through it and out. And as he was capable of giant joy, so did he harbor huge sorrow, so that when his dog died the world ended.”
When I read that particular paragraph, my mouth popped open. I had to go read it to Yuri. “His mind plunged like a colt in a happy pasture,” I read, and the words landed in him as they had in me. “Woah,” said Yuri.
“Yeah,” I said.
The character of Cathy Ames is so terrifying, so cruel, that I am afraid of her. Afraid of a fictional character in a book! And the Trask brothers’ complex, violent, loving relationship make them more real than some people you’ve met in real life. I’ve hardly begun to learn about the Hamilton family, but it’s the Trasks and the Hamiltons who are at the core of this epic.
It’s all a juicy Bible allegory; Steinbeck said so. He also said all the books and stories he wrote before East of Eden were warm ups for East of Eden. He called it “the first book,” and he dedicated it to his sons. Steinbeck was married three times and he lived the final thirteen years of his life in New York City with his third wife, whom he loved very much. “I am in New York,” he wrote to his editor, “surrounded by love.”
I know the feeling.