The Best Writing of the Week | East of Eden

Steinbeck´s East of Eden starts with the dullest opening lines I’ve read in a good long while.

The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.

East of Eden cover

It gets better. And then it gets better and then I want to call in sick to work and stay home and read the book and tell my friends never to call me again because I´m Reading All The Words.

Here is Steinbeck describing the wife of Samuel Hamilton, an Irishman we can´t help but like but who´s wife is… well, read this:

… and he brought with him his tiny Irish wife, a tight hard little woman humorless as a chicken. She had a dour Presbyterian mind and a code of morals that pinned down and beat the brains out of nearly everything that was pleasant to do.

Samuel is a character that we start to care for as Steinbeck describes more and more about him and his life, his attempts to pry crops from the dry ground. He is clever but doesn’t seem to be able to make or keep money. But he is very well liked by everyone around him.

They brought whiskey too, and out of sight of the kitchen window and the disapproving eye of Mrs. Hamilton they took hot nips from the bottle and nibbled cuds of green wild anise to cover the whiskey breath. It was a bad day when three or for men were not standing around the forge, listening to Samuel’s hammer and his talk. They called him a comical genius and carried his stories carefully home, and they wondered at how the stories spilled out on the way, for they never sounded the same repeated in their own kitchens.

And then there’s the way Steinbeck tells us about the family history through a book, uses the way a book looks to describe Samuel and his devotion to his family. This… this is writing.

Samuel had a great black book on an available shelf and it had gold letters on the cover – Dr. Gunn´s Family Medicine. Some pages were bent and beat up from use, and others were never opened to the light. To look through Dr. Gunn is to know the Hamilton´s medical history. There are the used sections – broken bones, cuts, bruises, mumps, measles, backache, scarlet fever, diptheria, rheumatism, female complaints, hernia and of course everything to do with pregancy and the birth of children. The Hamiltons must have been either lucky or moral for the sections on gonorhea and syphilis were never opened.

I strongly suspect that East of Eden will be the best book I read this year.

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