I liked this Steinbeck offering. I liked the fact that it's about small town morality, and ultimately society's morals too. The narrative raises questions about our attitudes towards the mundane and the everyday humdrum things like friendship, honesty, ambition, deception, fidelity, sex, family, avarice, petty corruption and to those of us who fall between the cracks.
Okay, so that may sound very traditional and staid, perhaps it isn't sexy enough, but that's exactly why I admire Steinbeck's work. He writes about the real and our day-to-day lives and in this novel he highlights questions of morality through the story of failed businessman Ethan Hawley and New Baytown in late '50s early '60s America.
I found it a compelling read, it wasn't an obvious story to tell and so I never really knew where the story was going to turn. It grabbed me with some clever structure and brilliant characterisation. I was particularly struck by the finely observed relationship between that of the protagonist and of his wife Mary, "My Mary".
Steinbeck's power for social realism shone out, describing the life of New Baytown and its occupants in minute detail and through it showing the quiet nobility of ordinary working people. It reminded me strongly of similar evocations in his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath.
This is a quirky and deceptively well-written book, with snappy dialogue, memorable characters and an intellectual seriousness lying behind the seemingly innocuous events. Recommended.