I have been meaning to read this Steinbeck novel for about 5 years now, spurned on by my friend Carrie‘s undying love for the book. What interested me most was 1-I value her taste in books, and 2- She loved telling other Christians it was her favorite book with them assuming it’s something to do with the Bible. [We went to a college with a pretty large Christian bubble, where everyone dated each other, went to Breakaway, prayed the same, chose Impact over Fish Camp, and spent Thursday nights at Bible Study instead of Northgate. It was good, it was bad, it was mostly weird looking back as an adult]
It’s been on my to-read list, and I picked up a copy at a garage sale a couple years back. It’s a thicker book (602 pages) so it’s something you really have to commit to, which I have trouble doing, thus two years in the making. In April I decided I needed a literary challenge, so I picked it up off the shelf and started.
It was NOT what I was expecting. I am wary of fiction most of the time, because it tries too hard to be real or I can’t handle the weird perspective changes, plus it’s not facts. JB will tell you I LOVE facts.
I’m not sure what I thought it would be, but I enjoyed it thoroughly nonetheless. Though it got slow a few times, it was a fascinating read in the study of good vs. bad. There is a common thread throughout the book of good vs. evil, Cain vs. Abel, brother vs. brother. I am not sure I would have appreciated the moral wrestling of the book had I read it back in high school because I’m just now growing up and learning that most things are actually “gray,” instead of black and white (good and bad). I fell in love with each of the characters and related to each in my own way (except Cathy/Kate…she’s plain crazy), especially in the way that Cal seeks his father’s approval to no end. I crave approval from others, especially my family and close friends, so I can imagine what it was like for him to work so hard in vain. Best character goes to Lee, a Chinese man who was brought in as a servant to the Trask family when Cathy left Adam & the boys. In public, he speaks pidgin English, because that’s what the white people expect of him, when in actuality he is more well-versed and well-read than most of them.
It was a long read, and it was hard to keep the characters straight in the first few chapters, but the overall story that Steinbeck tells is beautiful, relatable and also heartbreaking. It paints a great portrait of California in the early 1900s, and makes me want to visit Salinas today.
I rented the movie from the Lee County Library a few days ago. The film was made in 1965 and starred James Dean. I had never actually seen him in a film, only in that one picture where he’s smoking a cigarette in a leather jacket, and I judged him as just being a heartthrob and not a quality actor. Whoops, judged wrong. He had an excellent performance as Cal Trask, EoE being the only film he both starred in and got to watch himself in.
I liked the way they portrayed the later parts of the book, but I think that those who had not read the book would be very lost if they tried to figure it all out based purely off the film. There was no formal introduction of the characters, there wasn’t a backstory of how and why Cathy Trask is so very evil, there was no Sam Hamilton (my favorite! who I aspire to be), and saddest, there was no Lee! Lee was such a lovable and important character in the book, and I was disappointed when they simply replaced him with a boring old lady housekeeper. The movie did well to separate Cal and Aaron, with their personalities and iniquities that differentiated the twins. Without the backstory of how Adam Trask got to be the grumpy old man he was in the film, you did not feel empathy for him in the least, even when he had his stroke. Because I knew the details of his earlier life and how hard he had worked to raise his boys by himself, I felt sad for him and compassionate towards the troubles he was having, but I’m sure if I didn’t know his past I would have merely dismissed him as a person of importance.
The majority of film reviews praise the movie, but I feel so incomplete without the second half of the story. There’s a rumor around the Internet that Jennifer Lawrence is teaming up with her Hunger Games director to make their own EoE, supposedly in two halves according to the chronology. She is set to play Cathy/Kate and I know she would be equally scary and brilliant at this particular role.
Have you seen or read East of Eden? What did you think?