Publisher: Viking, 1938
Genre: Classic Fiction
Source: Public library
My Rating: A+
For the last two weeks a group of bloggers, sponsored by the The Classic Circuit, has joined together to honor the writing of John Steinbeck. I’m happy to be a part of that group. Over the years I’ve read and enjoyed most of Steinbeck’s novels. I couldn’t recall reading his short stories so I signed up for this particular collection.
The title, The Long Valley, refers to the Salinas Valley in central California. This is where Steinbeck was born (1902) and raised. In this twelve-story collection the Salinas Valley was a major component in all but one of the stories. Steinbeck featured the people, the geography, the culture and possibly some of the events of this farm and ranching area
I was amazed at how much the landscape and geography of the Salinas Valley permeates the book. Nearly every story includes true-to-life descriptions of the world surrounding the characters. Here’s an example from the story titled “Flight.”
“. . . on the wild coast, the Torres family had their farm, a few sloping acres above a cliff that dropped to the brown reefs and to the hissing white waters of the ocean. Behind the farm the stone mountains stood up against the sky. The farm buildings huddled like little clinging aphids on the mountain skirts, crouched low to the ground as though the wind might blow them into the sea.
Can’t you just see what the place looked like from his words? In The Long Valley, Steinbeck also created great characters. Each story reflects a different group of people that I believe Steinbeck must have known from years of living in Salinas Valley. Just from the first few stories, here is a sample of the great characters:
- Elisa Allen is a rancher’s wife with a gift for making things grow. She is especially proud of her showy chrysanthemums. And then a tinker man in a wagon came by . . .
- Mary Teller also has a gift for gardening. She could visualize the perfect garden and then she made it happen.
- There is also lazy Pepe who must flee into the mountains to try to save his life
- Dr. Phillips operates a lab in Monterrey. It’s filled with snakes and rats and other creatures. One day a young woman comes and wants to own one of the snakes.
The stories reflect the time of their writing – the 1930s – the Depression Years. It’s not that the stories are bleak or sad, but they do reflect those lean times. My favorite story is only four pages long and certainly reminded me of how things were for ordinary working people. The story is called “Breakfast.” I don’t know this for fact, but I believe Steinbeck must have had this experience like this. Here’s the first paragraph:
“This thing fills me with pleasure. I don’t know why, I can see it in the smallest detail. I find myself recalling it again and again, each time bringing more detail out of a sunken memory, remembering brings the curious warm pleasure.
Okay, that was a real teaser. The “thing” he’s referring to is breakfast – a very simple, meager one, but told so beautifully that I tasted it, smelled it, and saw the participants. I could hear their happiness, too.
Let me just mention two more stories. “The Murder” is a story of a rancher and his wife. She’s beautiful and a good housekeeper but not much of a companion. All I can say is that someone is murdered. I didn’t see it coming in spite of the story’s title. It’s an award-winning tale and is well-known. Another popular story is the three-part “Red Pony”. These stories feature the young son of a rancher, the animals and people on the ranch.
I’d love to tell you about every one of these stories but that would spoil it for you. I urge you to find The Long Valley and read just one of these rich stories. It’s a wonderful way to get the flavor of John Steinbeck, especially if he is a new author for you. Of course, I’m betting you can’t read just one.
In addition to reading The Long Valley for the Classic Circuit’s Steinbeck Tour, I also read it for the Classic Bribe. For more information on these programs, press the buttons below.