The Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck
Reviewed by Steve Rudd
After the bare requisites to living and reproducing, man wants most to leave some
record of himself, a proof, perhaps, that he has really existed.
He leaves his proof on wood, on stone or on the lives of other people.
This deep desire exists in everyone, from the boy who writes dirty words in a
public toilet to the Buddha who etches his image in the race mind. Life is so unreal.
I think that we seriously doubt that we exist and go about trying to prove that we do.
Who hasn't heard of John Steinbeck, hands up? He's one of America's most famous
writers, and is perhaps best known for his tragic short story
Of Mice And Men that is studied with intensity in most English-lesson
classrooms at school.
John's other infamous work is The Grapes of Wrath
(which deservedly won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962) that is
a must-read classic, yet The Pastures of Heaven: is just as engrossing as
those more famous works.
'A man ought to see everything he can. That's experience.
The most experience a man has, the better. A man ought to see everything.
This book is actually twelve short stories that are all fleetingly inter-related.
Each story presents a different person who lives in The Valley, and each of
the twelve people (or families) featured all have an extraordinary story to tell.
Not to suggest such stories are action packed orgies of sex, drugs or rock 'n' roll.
Instead, Steinbeck focuses on the sheer human drama that transpires out of a small
community living in a beautiful area of California, not far from Monterey and Salinas.
Most of his characters are in love with other people in the valley, yet for various
reasons such 'love' is often unrequited.
Steinbeck is also quick to comment upon the hardships of living in a small farming
community, and the difficulty that people can experience when it comes to them
admitting their real feelings for others.
He deals with the many varied trials
and tribulations of life and death with real, emotion-packed tenderness - and
for this he must be whole-heartedly saluted.
Come the end of the book, the majority of the most interesting characters who
live in the valley are known intimately, and the way in which their own individual
lives affect others is examined in exquisite detail, before the soul-stirring
final chapter assumes on objective look at the valley through the eyes of a
coach load of tourists passing the valley and looking down into it,
wondering exactly what type of people could live there and what their lives
might be like, as though us - the readers - don't know already... when we do.
Most lives extend in a curve. There is a rise of ambition, a rounded peak of
maturity, a gentle downward slope of disillusion and last a flattened grade of
waiting for death.
The Pastures of Heaven: is a genuinely unforgettable book, that further
reinforces the set-in-history fact that John Steinbeck was devastatingly
brilliant at being a writer, a philosopher, a poet without equal, who
authentically brought sun-kissed Californian landscapes and communities
to life with the most modest flourishes of his pen.
ISBN 0-14-118609-7 (first published in 1932; this edition published by
Penguin Classics in 2001)
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