John Steinbeck's East of Eden is a wonderful book to explore for both the first and any number of times, but it can lag a bit towards the end there. Nonetheless, considering that it was a late in the game switch(due to personal circumstances, Daniel Deronda was just too taxing for me to tackle again), I did pretty well with EOE.
The book is truly Steinbeck's saga story, as a bit of his family background is mixed into this novel of multi generational families, one of which happens to be Steinbeck's own ancestors in Salinas Valley,California, the main setting for the Trasks and the Hamiltons. While Steinbeck's people(the Hamilton family) do get more than a fair share of the narrative, the central focus of the ongoing plot are the Trasks, starting with Adam and Charles, a pair of brothers who at times unknowingly or unwillingly compete for the love of their gruff yet emotionally distant father.
Like any good saga, the story features love, hate and a slew of characters who represent one or the other yet at times can be both. It can be daunting to keep track, as the narrative does switch from one set of people to the other at different points, but there are plenty of standout figures in EOE that mark particular paths that the reader needs to follow:
One of those standouts is a sinister one; Cathy, the cold blooded beauty who has no qualms about manipulating anyone around,especially men. She first latches onto Adam as a means of recovery from a violent attack but is quick to see that his brother Charles is more like her than either of them care to admit.
In modern terms, Cathy is a sociopath as her reluctance to use and abuse others is so low it's practically nonexistent. From murder to attempted murder(she shoots Adam non fatally in order to escape becoming a standard wife and mother), along with prostitution and blackmail, there's no doubt about which color hat she's wearing here.
Yes, she does show a touch of emotion later on in the book when her teen age son Cal approaches her, although it's not quite the warm hearted family reunion there. One consistent trait of Cathy's is that she has to be control of any situation at all times and appear cool and calculating yet alluring all at the same time. It's no easy trick to be sure but you can't help admiring her evil ways there. In a way, this Cathy reminds me of another notorious Catherine, the deadly diva of the 90's thriller Basic Instinct, who played very similar mind games with the men unfortunate enough to be caught in her path of destruction:
When we're first introduced to him, he appears to be a stereotypical figure, complete with pidgin speech, but it's not long before Lee reveals that he puts on that expected persona in order to be "listened" to by anyone, particularly white society. Over time, he drops that charade yet is still underestimated by many who cross his path. His input into the lives of this family that pretty much becomes his own is vital to the story as well as to most of the long term characters.
His backstory is a riveting tale of immigration and tragedy that is just as compelling as any of the main characters and it's a credit to Steinbeck's talent that he was willing and able to give what could have been a cliched supporting player into such a vibrant personality whose emotional journey is as equally engaging as that of the main characters.
More often than not, the real reason is that "mom/dad liked you best!" and whether or not, that's the actual case in fact, such jealousy is insidious and almost addictive.
Fictional females engage in this trope, too, but the whole "brother vs. brother" set-up is a persistent one, from sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond and Frasier to dramas with a paranormal flair like Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries. The EOE comparisons do come to mind especially when it comes to vampire siblings Stefan and Damon of TVD, whose eternal feud was sparked by a cruel Catherine but was flammable to begin with due to who their strict father preferred as a son-sound familiar?:
Well, as enjoyable as it has been to walk down this section of the rereading road with Steinbeck, I am happy to be done with this book and look forward to starting my fall selection, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, sometime soon.
Since I have a couple of other reading challenges to complete(one of which I will be talking about later this week), the March sisters may have to wait until late October or early November for me to rejoin them.
In the meanwhile, there will be a write-up regarding the film adaptations of EOE coming soon to LRG, so do keep an eye out for it. East of Eden may not seem like a soap opera saga but it's just as juicy as any nighttime drama, only with a little more food for thought being served up with story telling style: