East of Eden (1952) by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck novels seem to find me, rather than the other way around. I've picked up some of his lesser-known works at library book sales, garage sales, and used book stores. Usually, I'm like, "hey, a Steinbeck I've never heard of before. MUST GET IT."
Well, that's what happened with East of Eden. Actually, I don't remember where or when I picked it up, but it was sitting in my TBR bookcase a couple of years ago and I decided to dive in.
One major reason why I chose it (a relatively thick novel) was that I was doing a lot of reading and reclining in those days, being very pregnant with twins. Imagine my (ummm) surprise when I came to the part where the Cathy character gives birth to- that's right- fraternal twin boys. Funny, cause I too was having fraternal twins boys. Thing is, Cathy is very bad news, murderous, and all around messed up. I thought, well, what a weird coincidence, and kept on a'readin'.
But I'm warning you- East of Eden will suck you in. Steinbeck makes you care about his characters, thoroughly and almost lovingly describing their desires and jealousies and doubts. The novel follows the lives of the Trask and Hamilton families in California's Salinas Valley at the end of WWI. Adam Trask is left alone with his farm, fortune, and infant twins Caleb and Aron after his wife Cathy shoots him in the arm and flees (she ultimately becomes a prostitute). The care of the boys falls to Lee, the Trask's Cantonese cook, as Adam struggles to recover, emotionally and physically, from Cathy's attack and abandonment.
Steinbeck invites us to read the novel in terms of good vs. evil, redemption, faith, and love, most obviously through his choice of names (Adam, Caleb & Aron = Cain & Abel). But East of Eden is full of Biblical echoes and questions, as Caleb and Aron grow up and grow apart, and when they find out who their mother really is. The constant tension between the farm and the city, the ancient land and new technology, enables us to see in a 20th century narrative the timeless story of human nature struggling with itself in search of meaning and purpose.
If you're intrigued, I also suggest Steinbeck's WWII novel, The Moon is Down. It's short, it's super-disturbing, and it's parable-esque (mmm that's probably not a word). Anyway, check it out. I mean, it's Steinbeck!