Friday, 10 April 2015

The Murder by John Steinbeck Review (Penguin Pocket 70s)


The four short stories in this small collection - The Chrysanthemums, Breakfast, The Vigilante, and The Murder - are set in early 20th century America, focusing mostly on rural communities.

Of the four, I wouldn’t say any really stood out as particularly great which is disappointing as John Steinbeck is easily one of my favourite writers.

The Murder is about an American farmer who marries an eastern European woman but the gulf between their cultures proves too great and they drift apart. She finds solace in another man’s arms and, well, given the title, there’s only one way that goes!

The Vigilante is about two men who attend a lynching of a black man and discuss it afterwards. Both are a bit rattled but seem ok with what their friends and neighbours got up to that night and no punishment of any sort is meted out.

Breakfast is a short portrait of working men in the Depression, chasing farm shifts to make a living and grateful just to be eating breakfast - the kind of men Steinbeck is best remembered for writing about.

The Chrysanthemums is about a farmer’s wife whose limitations on her life choices frustrate her, underlining the lack of women’s rights and opportunities at the time.

All are pretty grim slice-of-life stories that paint an unpleasant picture of America in the 1930s. That said, the stories didn’t leave much of an impact. It isn’t the subject matter I disliked so much as it was the un-impressiveness of the stories themselves. They weren’t as powerful as his novels nor as memorable. Granted it’s a different medium so he doesn’t have the same amount of room to build things up but I was hoping for something more of the great Steinbeck in these tales than what I read here.

Some writers can write short stories and some can’t; Steinbeck seems to be in the latter (his short novels like The Red Pony and The Pearl are also among his weakest prose efforts).

The Murder

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