If ever you’ve wanted to read a book that will completely destroy your worldview, then build it back up slowly, page by page, a little dingier but also much stronger than before, then East of Eden is the book for you.
It’s 602 pages of California-inspired prose, ageless wisdom, and complex characters wrapped into one very epic novel.
And if you think that’s exaggeration it’s not. It’s totally not.
I have never read a book that’s had a more profound impact on me, nor can I imagine one coming along anytime soon that will have similar effect.
That’s because everything about East of Eden is timeless, transcendent. It pulls you up into this grand, unfolding story, and even when it takes you to places you never dreamed you’d go, maybe never wanted to go, you can’t get away from it.
What’s more, you won’t want to get away.
You’ll want to keep pushing forward, because you’ll want to keep experiencing life with them, these characters come to life by John Steinbeck’s beautifully tragic words.
And the beauty of this story, the beauty of his words, is that they don’t invite you to stand along the sidelines and pass judgment on the characters. (God knows there’s plenty of that in real life.)
No. His words plead with you to crawl into the character’s shoes, even into their souls, to experience the feelings they do, and every painful step in their journey.
He wants you to do more than see the lives they lead; he wants you to live them.
As the characters fall in and out of love your heart will do the same.
And as the characters stumble in and out of sin, you’ll live vicariously, getting your hands dirty then trying desperately to scrub them clean.
Triumph and failure.
Heartache and joy.
You are there. You are in it, the throws of a life not lived well, necessarily, but well lived for sure.
And the very subtle difference between the two is precisely where Steinbeck shines.
He excels in the ambiguous, the gray matters I, for one, am so prone to overlook.
He highlights, instead of shies away from, the parts of life that don’t fit neatly into our preconceptions.
And for that I’m thankful.
For that I'm a (marginally) better person I believe.
I don’t want to ruin a thing about the story, by getting into who lives where, and who loves whom.
I will, however, share with you the powerful thread that ties all those who’s together.
It’s the same thing that ties us all together, good and bad, young and old, kind and cruel, brilliant and fool.
It’s our capacity to make choices.
Our ability to choose which direction we take, and then to rethink that decision as we go.
We choose who we want to be, how we want to treat people, and what matters most to us.
And we do so by making a thousand tiny choices everyday, choices that make up a life merely survived, or a life well-lived.
For a long time (most of my life) I viewed reading as an academic event. I saw it as an attempt, a ploy even, to gain more knowledge.
Lately I haven't much wanted to learn though, so the textbook like non-fiction I've anxiously purchased (though great) has started collecting dust on my shelves.
I've been looking for an escape instead, a break from the monotony of my daily existence, not an explanation for it or a How-To Cure.
East of Eden has offered just that. An esacpe. An outlet.
From the start it had me hopelessly, utterly caught up in its candor.
And because it captivated my attention - and my heart - I ended up learning so much more than I could have expected.
The book made me feel less alone in my wondering, in my dilemma over which choices to make, and if I know my way at all.
And escaping into it actually helped me feel more connected to humanity. Because it made me feel understood, accepted, in a way that has compelled me to seek to understand others more.
What a crazy, incredible gift that is, to set down a book invigorated to live.
And to share that life with others.
No wonder it's stood the test of time.
No wonder I couldn't put it down.
No wonder I was a little sad to read the last page, but indescribably grateful too, for having experienced it firsthand.
Life as an adult can seem pretty grim sometimes.
So many responsibilities. So little time (and money) for fun, whimsy.
East of Eden doesn't shy away from the hardness of life. If anything it reminds us that some have it much harder than others.
But, and this is such a big but (pun not intended), it also points to a beauty often lost in our toil and strife. Beauty not always noticed this side of Eden, but beauty that exists, waiting for us to find it.
Beauty is what beckons us to aim for greatness, but also to gracefully accept whatever comes.
Beauty is our choices, our ladder to the stars.
Do yourself a favor. Take my word on this one.
Rent, buy or borrow this book, curl up with a blanket, and get lost for a while in the beauty that is Eden.