Wednesday, February 10, 2010

East of Eden

Yesterday nine intrepid book lovers came together to deliberate the merits of the book John Steinbeck considered his opus, and Kathy was quick to agree with his assessment. Welcome to Jan and Cheryl - thanks for joining us. I find it remarkable that each month we almost always are an assembly of nine, just not the same nine - a supreme court, of sorts I suppose.

We were quick to agree that Sam Hamilton was our favorite character, closely followed by Lee. The serpent was Cathy/Kate with her little mouth, sharp teeth, pointed darting tongue and small, lobeless ears close to her head. Who was Eve? The book is rich with symbolism and we had a lot of fun sharing the things we had already uncovered and discovering things we had missed. We thought that Cain and Abel were both Adam and Charles and Caleb and Aron.

Just what or where was Eden? Kareen and Cheryl talked about the garden that Adam had planned to build but didn't, or was it the Salinas Valley, which would then place the Trask place to the east of it? And who was Eve? We couldn't decide. Was it Lee? We loved Lee's theological discussion with Sam over the Genesis story, and Timshel - thou mayest, and Steinbeck's use of it to close the book.

Abandonment is key to the story - all these people left to figure things out on their own, children without mothers and absent fathership. Cal tortured himself that he was the son of a whore, but didn't get much sympathy from Abra whose father was a thief. Cal said, "but I've got her blood," and Abra said, "I've got his." "They walked along in silence while he tried to rebalance himself." We felt that Cal and Abra would go on to a healthy, and probably the only whole marriage in the cast.

It was painful as I read to realize that for the story to follow the allegory, Cal had to be responsible for Aron's death in some form because I just liked Cal better. Aron was withdrawing from the real world and living in a world of his own making, much like his grandfather, Cyrus. I can't remember who pointed that out. Abra complained that Aron didn't know her, but was making her a virtuous woman, an untruth.

Speaking of truth, Sheriff Quinn said, "Adam could do no dishonesty." We talked about the fact that he rejected Cal's money as ill-gotten gains, yet lived on his father's ill-gotten inheritance. No one liked Adam and we were reminded that before he got his money, he was a hobo. Kathy decided that he was just lazy and without the money, he probably would still be a hobo. We wondered what was going to happen to Kate's ill-gotten money, which she left to Aron. And why only to Aron, not Cal? Several asked, did they have two fathers? Sam pointed out that there were two sacks.

We thought about maybe putting a Steinbeck on next years book list, but Kathy begged us to rethink that. She says she has enough of him for now, having read four in the last couple of months. Kareen suggested she try "Travels with Charlie." We might want to think about that one for next year. We did change the September book from The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell to The Women by T.C. Boyle and I have changed that in the reading list for this year that I posted in an earlier blog. Please feel free to add your comments.