Thursday, September 5, 2013

Steinbeck's Last Novel

The last novel that John Steinbeck wrote was The Winter of Our Discontent, which highlights the lives of the working class in the 1960s against the backdrop of the fictional New Baytown, largely based on Steinbeck's own experience living in Sag Harbor in his later years.  The story's protagonist is Ethan Hawley, a man educated at Harvard where he  "lodged in the old, the beautiful, the obscure, indulged myself with knowledge utterly useless in running a grocery store..."  And yet, because his father lost the family fortune by "investing wildly," Ethan finds himself doing exactly that -spending his days as the clerk of the grocery store that his family used to own, philosophizing to an audience of canned goods. Ethan has a wife and two kids, and feels discontent and resentment about his job, and explores his own conflicted relationship with his dislike for the money but his fear of not having money to support his family.   This fear drives him to consider some rather unscrupulous possibilities.  As in most Steinbeck novels, the dialogue is swift and witty.  A list of my favorite pet names that Ethan has for his wife Mary include 1) cottontail, 2) my rumpled duck, 3) pin curl, and 4) pigeon-flake.  Steinbeck went no to win the Nobel Prize in 1962.  That said, this is one of my least favorite of his books, and for me, doesn't compare to East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, and To a God Unknown.  Still, there are some memorable quotes:

"We can shoots rocket into space but we can't cure anger or discontent."

"It was a day as different from other days as dogs are from cats and both of them from crhysanthemums or tidal waves or scarlet fever."

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