Overview (No Spoilers):
A few years ago, one of the members of a book club I was a part of recommended East of Eden several months in a row as it was his favorite book of all time. Intrigued, I filed this title away as one I’d have to eventually read because my curiously is always piqued when someone makes that bold claim regarding a book. As such, while I’m not usually one to judge other’s literary opinions, however upon finishing East of Eden, I’m mind boggled how this tragic, heart wrenching book could be classified as anyone’s favorite book of all time. Let me be explicitly clear, I fully understand why this sprawling novel is considered a classic with its beautiful details and eloquent, thought provoking dialogs, alas that being said, my heart still bears bruises from the continual beating that Steinbeck deliberately administered. With the loss of my Grandfather still raw, Steinbeck’s powerful exploration of the painful topic of death was more than I could take, as even now reflecting back on the specific discussion causes my eyes to well. East of Eden is by no means a feel good story, in which you’d traditionally find good overwhelming overcoming evil. Instead, the majority of characters encountered will endure heartbreak, disappointments, and death to an alarming degree. The more innately virtuous and likable the individual, was perfect recipe for Steinbeck turn them into one dimensional, tunnel visioned zealots, while prescribing them an equal dose of ill luck. There were at least two exceptions to the aforementioned observation, however those unique characters seemed to rise above the chaotic fray that engulfed those surrounding them. Overall, while this classic is well worth the read, make sure to sandwich this title between two much happier, feel good novels.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- What happened to Charles in the 10 years Adam did not talk to him?
- Adam’s dream of creating an Eden was beautiful. It was arguably the saddest of dreams to die in this book filled with death.
- Did Abra and Cal stay together? Did Cal conquer his evil side or forgive himself for Aron’s death?
- Adam and Charles’ father Cyrus was a fascinating character. How did he come up with the money? Did he actually steal it? Also, how would have Adam’s story changed if he would have taken his father up on the West Point offer?
- Did Alice ever realize it was Adam leaving her little presents?
- What happened to Lee after Adam died? That’s also assuming that he died fairly soon after his stroke, which might not have happened. Lee was by far my favorite character throughout this novel. He was the rock that seemed to keep the story going throughout everyone else’s wild emotional swings.
- I thought it was interesting you’d start out liking one of the brother sets more than the other, however by the end you could hardly handle the sections focused the ‘good’ brother with the other brother making a more solid connection. There’s comparisons to Cain and Abel in the two brother sets highlighted, as well as pondering if we have a choice to be evil or if it is engrained.
- Adam had such consuming tunnel vision regarding everything from Cathy to Cal. The scene where Adam turns away Cal’s gift of money was so heart wrenching. Really, while Adam began this book as overwhelmingly our favorite character, whereupon after his time in the army he slowly began toeing the line of being insufferable until making the decisive move in that direction once he met Cathy.
- Why did Cathy never sell out after getting Charles’ money? It seemed weird to me she stayed so stagnant after leaving Adam.
- The fate of the Hamilton family was so heartbreaking. From Tom to Dessie to Una, so many of them suffered. It felt as though this book really punished the dreamers to an extreme.
- Who did Dessie have an affair with?
- I thought it was ill fitting that the narrator was Olive’s son because what connection did he really have with the Trask family other than Adam coming to his house once to visit his Grandmother? Was there something I missed? While I enjoyed his reflections in the beginning of the individual parts, I left like they never really tied together, however I did read that Olive was modeled after Steinbeck’s mother.
- Did Cal continue his work with Will Hamilton?