“A classic novel from Steinbeck.”

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

I don’t even know where to start with this review except to say this book swallowed me whole. I made the mistake of reading it too quickly, in less than a week, and therefore I allowed it to consume every corner of my mind. I decided this morning I needed to finish the last one hundred pages in order to free myself, since I’d been dreaming about the book, three nights in a row.

Steinbeck stated about East of Eden: “It has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years.” He further claimed: “I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.”

I won’t give a summary. I don’t even know if you can adequately summarize an epic book like Eden which spans three generations of two different families. The plot of the novel isn’t even as mind blowing as the thematic elements (though the plot is well thought out, intricate, and concise). The perpetual contrast of good and evil, the idea of the natural man v his own agency, the inherent want of love and subsequent rejection, and of course, the story of Cain and Abel represented mainly in the Aron/Cal relationship but reflected also in the Adam/Charles relationship to a certain extent (paternal rejection).

Cathy/Kate was a terrifying character. I don’t know which was the harder part for me to read..when she murdered her parents or when she slowly poisoned Faye.

Steinbeck carefully intertwines original sin with inheritance which touches each of the main characters. The inheritance originates with embezzlement and dishonesty, is added upon through murder and prostitution, and eventually falls solely on the character that possess the highest morals. Because Cal is the only one who truly understands the idea of timshel, it is appropriate that he doesn’t inherit a cent of the tainted money.

I thought it was interesting that Charles, Cathy, and even Cyrus were presented as slaves to their nature, but once the idea of Timshel was presented Cal was able to overcome his proclivity for sin and exercise agency in his desire to do good. For example, when introducing Cathy Steinbeck writes, “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. . . . 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?” But when they name the twins Lee says, “Don’t you see? . . . The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’—that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open.”

My copy is now all marked up with my favorite quotations. I want to share my favorite, which, if I had to pick, sums up the book quite nicely:

“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”

I will revisit this one again. I think it’s a book that demands to be read more than once in order for the content to become engraved on your soul. I recommend it to anyone, especially those who enjoy deep, thoughtful, mind-blowing reads.

 

Reviewed by:

Melissa Turney

Added 30th May 2015

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