Tuesday, December 05, 2006

East of Eden

John Steinbeck wrote this one, no doubt wrote it with dusty farmers hands, calloused finger tips clacking out words like ancient roots and dark minerals on some half rusted type writer.

His stories twine up into a dark valley sky like the bare autumn branches of an old oak. They burn about as hot in a winter furnace too.

You do not tell people what John Steinbeck writes about. The only hope is to put down the book, look the people in their eyes, hold your hands out in front of them, and they'll see how those hands tremble.

I was looking through an open cardboard box of paperback books today. Someone had left them behind the CQ desk to quail the endless boredom of fourteen hours behind a desk. I read the covers. Everyone of them was either a New York Times bestseller or written by the author of a New York Times bestseller. The subtle sadness of the latter title is probably missed behind the flare of "New York Times bestseller" no matter what its context. They mean, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER has been, at their semantic bottom. There appears to be no shortage of New York Times reviewers with flatulences like "suspense", "intrigue", and "thriller" burning on the tips of their tongues.

Any man to use such loose language, and by loose I do mean slutty, to describe a book such as "East of Eden" ought to be--well, scolded harshly, atleast.

Here is what I mean:

"Why should you not tell me?" Adam asked.

"I can see my father's face when he told me. An old misery comes back, raw and full of pain. Telling it, my father had to stop and gain possession of himself, and when he continued he spoke sternly and he used hard sharp words almost as though he wanted to cut himself with them.
"[My parents] managed to stay close together by claiming she was my father's nephew. The months went by and fortunately for them there was very little abdominal swelling, and she worked in pain and out of it. My father could only help her a little, apologizing, 'My nephew is young and his bones are brittle.' They had no plan. They did not know what to do.
"And then my father figured out a plan. They would run into the high mountains to one of the higher meadows, and there beside a lake they would make a burrow for the birthing, and when my mother was safe and the baby born, my father would come back and take his punishment. And he would sign for an extra five years to pay for his delinquent nephew. Pitiful as their escape was, it was all they had, and it seemed a brightness. The plan had two requirements--the timing had to be right and a supply of food was necessary."
Lee said, "My parents"--and he stopped, smiling over his use of the word, and it felt so good that he warmed it up--"my dear parents began to make their preparations. They saved a part of their daily rice and hid it under their sleeping mats. My father found a length of string and filed out a hook from a piece of wire, for there were trout to be caught in the mountain lakes. He stopped smoking to save the matches issued. And my mother collected every tattered scrap of cloth she could find and unraveled edges to make thread and sewed this ragbag together with a splinter to make swaddling clothes for me. I wish I had known her.

"So do I," said Adam. "Did you ever tell this to Sam Hamilton?"

"No. I didn't. I wish I had. He loved a celebration of the human soul. Such things were like a personal triumph to him."

"I hope they got there," said Adam.

"I know. And when my father would tell me I would say to him, 'Get to that lake--get my mother there--don't let it happen again, not this time. Just once let's tell it: how you got to the lake and built a house of fir boughs.' And my father became very Chinese then. He said, 'There's more beauty in the truth even if it is dreadful beauty. The storytellers at the city gate twist life so that it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar.'"


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