East of Eden took me about a month to read, but that’s not because it’s bad. It can be a wee bit slow, though. And it’s really long. It’s basically a Cain and Abel story set in California. I’m sure you can imagine what happens.
The novel follows two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons. Samuel Hamilton moves to the Salinas Valley to farm, but he buys less than ideal land and has little money. He has lots of children, and various things happen to them. Adam Trask had lived with his brother, Charles. Charles had always been jealous, especially about their relationship with their father, and he’d even tried to kill Adam once. Many years later, after Adam joined the army and was gone for several years, their father died, leaving them about a hundred thousand dollars, which was lots of money around the turn of the twentieth century, making them both very rich. They continue to live on the farm, but Adam has dreams of moving out to California. Suddenly, a woman named Cathy turns up, beaten half to death. By this time, we know that she’s entirely heartless and just about pure evil. She killed her parents in a house fire, became a prostitute, and casually broke the heart of a man who loved her. That’s the man who beat her up. Anyway, she stays with Adam and Charles while she recuperates, and then she marries Adam – shortly after she has an affair with Charles because he’s “like her.” Adam moves Cathy across the country to California, and she doesn’t want to go. She eventually bares twins, one light and one dark. She has no interest in him. She decides to leave, and when Adam tries not to let her go, she shoots him in the shoulder, crushing his bones and his heart, then joins a whorehouse in town. And that’s where I stop: the novel follows the Hamiltons and the Trasks through their lives.
I really liked East of Eden, though it’s not my favorite Steinbeck novel. (The Grapes of Wrath is my favorite.) It reminds me of possibly my very favorite novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, though it doesn’t seem as expansive. I think it wants to be. It’s certainly worth reading. I think I might have liked it more if I hadn’t drawn it out so long. Usually, though, when I take so long to read books, they end up in the Fail Pile, so that’s a point in East of Eden‘s favor. Steinbeck is one of my very favorite authors, and this is one of his best novels. Read it.