Thursday, 25 February 2010

The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family from their home in Oklahoma to California where they hope to start a new life after the bank took their farm.  Tom is the second son, and he's just gotten out on parole when the book starts.  He makes it home to find the former pastor, Casey, returned to the area and his family gone.  He catches up with them at his uncle's house and finds them leaving for California.  Their hopes are as high as they can be, considering their land just got taken from under their feet and they barely have $150 and a not-so-great car.  Their journey pretty much starts with death.  Grampa has a stroke the first night.  They meet a couple on the road and join with them to make the going a little easier, but they end up having to split up before they reach California.  Grandma dies before they get there, and the oldest boy leaves.  They keep meeting with people who are leaving California, saying things like their entire family's died there and there's no work.  By the time they reach it, the book has a really strong sense of hopelessness, but they keep going.  They look for work, run away from the police and the bands of vigilantes who are burning "Okie" camps, and just try to survive.

I liked the book.  I enjoyed reading it.  I really liked the use of language between the narration and the dialogue, and it really seemed like the characters were very strong in their presence.  Tom and Ma were my favorite.  Sometimes it really seemed like Ma was less a person and  more what the characters needed, but I think that was her purpose in the story, and it's not an unbelievable role at any rate.

It was also very frustrating to read.  It got me thinking a lot about our history and how much, as a culture, we've tried to cover up or just ignore when we teach it.  The industrial revolution and its impact on agricultural lifestyles is just one of those things.  I think every culture has that - I know Japan does, and nobody ever tells the whole truth when it comes to war or hardships.  Humans are a nasty bunch.  When I finished reading The Grapes of Wrath, I remembered a comment on Facebook where someone had been talking about America's superiority to other countries, based on what sounded like cultural "morality," which is a load of horse shit (pardon the language).  Humans are human, and like I said before, humans can be nasty creatures, Christian or not.  Humans backed with an idea of righteousness and moral superiority are even worse.

Anyway, it was a thought provoking book.  I'm glad I finally read it, but like 1984 and A Brave New World, I needed a break once I was done.  I've finished Elric - Stealer of Souls and I found a new book in the Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, so I'm reading that now.  Next in my list of "Literary Classics" will probably be Dickens, I'm debating which one still.  I have more Steinbeck (6 pack of short novels!!!), but I'd like a break from American authors for a bit.  What I'd really like is to find some good fantasy that's well written!  Briggs is great, so maybe I should ammend that to say good epic fantasy that's not first person and is well written.  (Moorcock falls way short of the "well written" part of that.) 

And on that note, I'll write review Elric - Stealer of Souls soon, but not likely before I finish Bone Crossed.   I love reading her stuff! I almost missed my train stop today!!  I'm so happy she wrote another one.  I was content with the ending of Iron Kissed, but I was curious what would happen to all of them after.

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