I love you John Steinbeck. Seriously, this guy was a national treasure. I never read the back of a book before starting it, so I got to the third chapter of this book before I realized it was a short story collection. Normally I’m not a big fan of short stories, but this was great. Almost all of these generated an emotional response, and the characters overlapped and interacted so that I was excited whenever a familiar character turned up.
Instead of following one character or even one family, Steinbeck follows a community/town, the Pastures of Heaven near Salinas, California. I’d probably rate the chapters as follows (from worst to best):
Chapter 1: A brief summary of how the Pastures of Heaven was founded.
Chapter 12: Some tourists visit the Pastures of Heaven; a short section that’s ironic in the contrast between what they are seeing and the difficulties we’ve just read a whole book about.
Chapter 5: Helen has a daughter named Hilda who has mental issues and for a time lives locked up in a house. This one had a fairy tale feel to it that builds to tragedy.
Chapter 2: This one follows a plot of land that many find to be cursed, eventually leading to Bert Munroe moving in who will be the closest thing we get to a main character throughout the book.
Chapter 8: The teacher from Chapter 6 gets an origin story, along with a possible twist as to where what she believes about her family.
Chapter 9: This was an odd one about a man who frequently went to watch executions, and a neighbor who decides he’d like to join him for the next occurrence.
Chapter 7: Two sisters open a restaurant where they serve enchiladas. Soon after they decide if a man eats three or more enchiladas, they take him in the back and show him how grateful they are (sexually).
Chapter 4: Tulacerito is a a baby that is maybe a demon or maybe part frog who is found in a field by a drunken laborer, who grows into a strange artistic possibly gnome or psycho man.
Chapter 3: Edward “Shark” Wicks is a man respected in the community for his financial prowess, which is all based on a false ledger book he keeps ridiculous track of.
Chapter 11: These top three are near interchangeable in which one I liked the best. This story folloed three generations of a family, from the building of the most impressive house in town to the last family that lived there.
Chapter 6: Junius Maltby is an intellectual who raises his son to be a wild, carefree individual. When the son goes to school, the social order is thrown out of whack.
Chapter 10: Pat Humbert’s parents die and he becomes a bit of a recluse, keeping a room nailed shut that he believes is haunted. When he overhears a pretty girl describe his house as like the ones in Vermont, he spends all of his time and money turning his residence into a Vermont house replica in the hopes of impressing her.
Steinbeck’s writing is always wonderful, and this was no exception. Definitely going up there with his other great books on my shelf.