Date Published: 1961
Goodreads Synopsis: Ethan Allen Hawley, the protagonist of Steinbeck’s last novel, works as a clerk in a grocery store that his family once owned. With Ethan no longer a member of Long Island’s aristocratic class, his wife is restless, and his teenage children are hungry for the tantalizing material comforts he cannot provide. Then one day, in a moment of moral crisis, Ethan decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous standards.
Set in Steinbeck’s contemporary 1960 America, the novel explores the tenuous line between private and public honesty that today ranks it alongside his most acclaimed works of penetrating insight into the American condition. This edition features an introduction and notes by Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw.
My View: More than 5 years ago, I happened to come across ‘Of mice and men’ while searching for the shortest possible classic (don’t judge me! :p) and happened to love it (read my review here). So it was just as well, I came across this book (which again I had never heard of before but knowing Steinbeck I thought it was worth the risk) during my monthly visit to the library.
Imagine my delight when the book had me in its clutches from Page 1 and never let go. I would read till late night, read while commuting to work, try to sneak in glances at work (dear boss, if you’re reading this, I am just making this up, ya know!), read on my way back home and pick it up as soon as I reached home and read till my eyes closed of their own accord. The result? I finished it in 3 days flat (during weekdays!) which is a big thing for me when reading a 300+ page book. But I couldn’t/ didn’t want to stop reading. It was addictive and I had to know what would happen next.
In a way, it’s a thriller because you know where things are leading to and you’re expecting it to happen. You’re lying in wait for just the right opportunity for it to happen and you’re anxious about it. You don’t know if you want to go with Ethan or steer him away from his path. In some ways, it reminded me of crime and punishment. I know I might be crazy to draw comparisons between these two books but there’s this thing about morality and honesty and what should be and shouldn’t be done and I think both books sort of have an ongoing debate on this theme (if my memory serves me right or else I am indulging in retrospective falsification).
I loved the characters from the beginning. I felt for Ethan. He made me laugh like crazy. His sense of humor is amazing. I kind of fell in love with him a little bit although he does have his faults. Mary, his wife is the backbone of the household and holds her own fort. The children have such vivid personalities. Steinbeck brilliantly sketches his characters. Each person shines through and it’s like you know all of them intimately.
Steinbeck’s writing is so powerful and thought-provoking. If I had a kindle copy, it would be filled with 100 highlights, I am sure. His words are just magic and when put on paper, they sprout wings and fly away into the eternity, resonating within the reader long after the book has been closed.
Here’s a sneak peek into his writing-
“I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen… When two people meet, each one is changed by the other so you’ve got two new people.”
“So many old and lovely things are stored in the world’s attic because we don’t want them around us and we don’t dare throw them out.”
Steinbeck, I think I am in love with you.
I will be picking up other books by him and you should definitely pick this one up! (Note to self- Need to buy this asap and re-read it sometime.)
John Steinbeck III was an American writer. He wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939 and the novella Of Mice and Men, published in 1937. In all, he wrote twenty-five books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and several collections of short stories.
In 1962 Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley region of California, a culturally diverse place of rich migratory and immigrant history. This upbringing imparted a regionalistic flavor to his writing, giving many of his works a distinct sense of place.
Steinbeck moved briefly to New York City, but soon returned home to California to begin his career as a writer. Most of his earlier work dealt with subjects familiar to him from his formative years. An exception was his first novel Cup of Gold which concerns the pirate Henry Morgan, whose adventures had captured Steinbeck’s imagination as a child.
In his subsequent novels, Steinbeck found a more authentic voice by drawing upon direct memories of his life in California. Later he used real historical conditions and events in the first half of 20th century America, which he had experienced first-hand as a reporter.
Steinbeck often populated his stories with struggling characters; his works examined the lives of the working class and migrant workers during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. His later body of work reflected his wide range of interests, including marine biology, politics, religion, history, and mythology.
One of his last published works was Travels with Charley, a travelogue of a road trip he took in 1960 to rediscover America. He died in 1968 in New York of a heart attack and his ashes are interred in Salinas.
Seventeen of his works, including The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Cannery Row (1945), The Pearl (1947), and East of Eden (1952), went on to become Hollywood films, and Steinbeck also achieved success as a Hollywood writer, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Story in 1944 for Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat.