While The Pastures of Heaven, John Steinbeck’s second book, was leaps and bounds ahead of his debut, Cup of Gold, it still fell short compared to the masterpieces he would produce in his life.
There were places where his potential blazes off the page. These are mostly in his descriptions of the valley or the people who live in it. When it comes to action or dialogue scenes, the writing is still often awkward and overblown, sometimes almost biblical or like something you might find in his beloved tales of King Arthur. In short, it isn’t very realistic. Again, it’s nowhere near as bad as Cup of Gold, but it isn’t The Grapes of Wrath, either.
The book itself is a collection of 13 short pieces, all connected by setting and by the interference of the Munroe family, an unlucky clan that moves into the valley and brings disaster to everyone who befriends them. The Munroes, as we learn from the Introduction, was a late addition Steinbeck included to hold the stories together. In many cases, the stories would have been better off without them.
Most of the stories deal with farmers and the life they lead in the valley. There’s one about a new school teacher. All of the stories are really about something other than farming. One of them, No. 10, seemed inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s story “Hop-Frog.” I’ll leave you to figure that one out.
This one is probably only for the hardcore Steinbeck fanatics. (I know my current and past students are nodding in agreement here.) It’s a fun little book and shows a critical stage in the author’s development toward maturity. The unevenness of the stories dropped my rating from a 4 to a 3 out of 5.