Book Report: The Long Valley by John Steinbeck (1938)

This book collects a number of John Steinbeck short stories. They’re centered around the Salinas Valley in California, and I feel a little more connection with them and the topography that Steinbeck describes since we visited northern California this year. Suddenly, I understand mountains at the edge of the ocean.

Steinbeck’s writing is accessible enough for modern readers steeped in commercial fiction (like me) to grasp. James Joyce, Benjy Campson, and all the tangled verbiage artists have done more to drive readers away from any literary fiction than Steinbeck or Hemingway could hope to save.

I find Steinbeck’s style a little disengaging, although easy to read, and it can take me a while to get into a rhythm where I appreciate the characters and want to find out what happens next. In Steinbeck’s novels, this doesn’t pose difficulty other than the initial start-up costs of turning the first few dozen pages by discipline. However, with short stories, you have to start over with a new character or set of characters. So a number of stories just don’t work.

However, the last set of stories features the same set of characters, so I was able to plunge, enjoyably, through the last quarter of the book.

So I enjoyed the book, but not unabashedly. But this completes my hardback study of Steinbeck spurred by the purchase of a set of these hardback editions at an estate sale two years ago. Although I still have East of Eden in paperback, I don’t know how quickly I will get to it.

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