Wednesday, March 02, 2011

East of Eden

When I found out the rationale behind the title of the book - around halfway through - I was very intrigued. I did not know before opening it that it was a retelling of the Cain and Abel story, nor that it would study the original story in some depth. I have never really been drawn to Steinbeck's work before. I've read "Of Mice and Men" and a few tidbits/excerpts from other works, and I never really cared for the middle-america poor man struggle with life, morals and sorrow. But this story had a very interesting appeal to me from the beginning. Its cast of characters stood out stark, fluid and memorable, without appearing as caricatured or exaggerated (like many-a-Dickens novel). I found I could relate with most of them and understand others. I was impressed with how realistically characters changed throughout the novel, and how the narrator sometimes tried to explain these changes without presumption or arrogance.

I also have never been drawn to the story of Cain and Abel. To me, Cain was always a jealous beast and Abel a humble do-gooder, and I never made the effort to humanize them before that. In this book I found myself annoyed and frustrated with the character of Aron (Abel), and at the same time, I grew to love and cherish the character of Cal (Cain), the more I read of them. Cal's struggle with the bad impulses inside of him and his love for his father and brother held me captive. I found myself hoping that it would all turn out different from the original story, or wondering if there might be some role reversal as a twist for the ending. I won't give away the ending, but I will say that reading it felt like I was reading a completely new story, even though Steinbeck claims "there really is only one story."