I finished East of Eden last night and–are you laughing and saying “I told you so” right now, dad?–it was seriously disappointing. I haven’t read the book in ten years, since we were actually living in California and I was probably freshly influenced by our visit to Salinas and the John Steinbeck museum.

A picture we took to gloat to our South Dakota families of us in jackets, in February.

A picture we took to gloat to our South Dakota families of us in jackets, in February.

Last night I wondered what all the fuss was about. The book is supposedly Steinbeck’s magnum opus, but it falls short and flat to me. The characters, with the possible exception of Cathy, Cal, and Lee, are flat and underdeveloped. The families really don’t twine together as advertised. Sam Hamilton is put forth, they have a single conversation that’s only deep in their minds, and somehow it influences practically everything else, except that it doesn’t.

Adam is lame. There, I said it. He’s lazy, kind of dumb, and you never really understand him or what he was about after he grew up. When he was a kid, you got him. But then his personality disappears. Aron, likewise, is a flat kid with a vanity that’s couched in his angelic likability, but he’s really just annoying. The only truly interesting character is Cal, and I suppose in the end you’re supposed to go off wondering if he took his father’s blessing and did something with it.

I think the book was too ambitious and too transparent in its aim to be great, when in the end it isn’t (perhaps mirroring the characters?). Amazingly, many people on Good Reads disagree with me. One person wants to “marry this book and have its babies.” Errr, yeah.

On the whole, I prefer Chaim Potok’s Jewish novels to this pseudo-Christian “parable.” And that’s not to say I haven’t liked other Steinbeck novels. But I’ll take The Promise over East of Eden any day.