I read this book for our Reading Challenge for the category of “classic fiction you’ve never read before.”
This book is touted as a family saga that is “sprawling and often brutal,” which describes it pretty well. There is a horribly despicable villain beyond compare in this novel, and some great characters too. Read this for Sam Hamilton (the writer’s grandfather) and for the wonderful Chinaman, Lee, but you’ll have to suffer through some other parts to do so.
The writing is downright brilliant, and Steinbeck’s incisive understanding of human nature is profound. East of Eden is a bit of a reenactment of the Cain and Able story, but goes way beyond that, with a convoluted and involved story line that lets the story breathe a bit, while exhibiting lots of empathy for the Cain-like figure. We are certainly left, like Eve, with an exhaustive knowledge of good and evil.
Heavy, long, and fragmented, with a character I did not enjoy loathing, I thought I would not give East of Eden five stars. However, it is too insightful and masterfully layered to deny that this is top-notch writing at its best, so I am aquiescing and giving it five stars. There is a reason it is a classic. To be sure, I’ll never forget it.