Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vintage, California

I read "The Grapes of Wrath" on a summer visit to an Eastern European country, an apt setting for this novel. Alongside the grim stories are beautifully written chapters about nature and land. The book went well with the corn fields flying by.

I reread it perhaps a month or two later. I was worried that my impression of the book had been altered by the way I'd read it, something not unheard of. The experience was, indeed, quite different, but actually more positive. Since then, I've only ever reread two very specific parts of Steinbeck's novel and have largely ignored the rest.

The first revisited part is, unsurprisingly, the end. At the risk of spoiling the book for those who haven't read it, I won't go into what exactly it is about the ending that called me back again and again. Just know that it's a good ending. At first I didn't like it. Even before I reread the whole novel, this one scene, these last few pages kept pulling me back in, first in annoyance, and later, growing respect and appreciation. Each revisit explained something new and made me like the book a little more.

The other part is at once more complicated and simpler. As I mentioned earlier, "The Grapes of Wrath" has descriptive chapters amidst the meat of the book. These are beautiful "literary" chapters, ignoring real characters and looking at nature and at the land. These are chapters to build the world, adding a level of descriptive depth to it.

Chapter 25 epitomizes this. This chapter lends the book its name and stands as some of the single greatest writing I've ever read. From its pure, idyllic opening ("The spring is beautiful in California."), to the title-giving final line ("In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage."), it travels the state and sums up much of the story indirectly.

These two snapshots don't make up the book. In fact, they paint a picture of a completely different type of novel, one that focuses too much, perhaps, on the aesthetic qualities of words and less their meaning. Now, a few years later, they serve as an excellent reminder that I liked this book, and this (coupled with how well "The Grapes of Wrath" grew on me) proves that I must revisit it. Preferably soon.

1 comment:

  1. I read and loved East of Eden a few months back, and found that some of the chapters that dealt with the land were just so beautiful and thought provoking. It sounds like this book has some of that same essence in it as well. I am making this my next classic and I will be coming back to this review after I turn the last page. So glad to hear that this was such an awesome book. I'll be looking forward to it!

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