Rereading East of Eden

I recently reread East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I recalled nothing of my first reading, which I believe took place in the mid 80s. I have never seen the movie. I was familiar with the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis, the inspiration for the novel.

I really don’t know why I am sharing these thoughts about the novel. It certainly doesn’t hold up like Grapes of Wrath. It’s a sprawling, digressive, often brutally misogynistic mess in places, with Steinbeck’s trademark bursts of philosophy showing up here and there and completely unrelated to the narrative.

But still, East of Eden, published in 1952, strangely haunts me. As I read it, I tried finding something that I could apply to my life and country and I could not, unlike I did with Grapes of Wrath almost every chapter.

I credit Steinbeck for employing a gigantic scope in East of Eden. He’s going for nothing less than the nature of good and evil, love and death and using the story of Cain Abel as the template.

Never in my writing life have I attempted to write a book with a gigantic narrative scope of humanity.

I do have one idea that I’ve mentioned a few times over the years, about attempting a novel called The Watershed that would unfold with vast, sweeping range. But it’s not really about humanity. It’s about what humanity has done to nature and how nature responds. And no, its not about a virus, unless capitalism is considered a virus.

I think it would take me years to write it. I need to conduct considerable research that could take years to complete.

Perhaps that’s the reason I am writing about East of Eden, to remind myself of the need to aim big, truly gargantuan, with this project.

I wonder if I’ll ever write it.