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Deeply and unforgivably misogynist

2 out of 5 stars
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2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 2018-10-30

I will concede that Steinbeck has his virtues; he is no doubt an exceptional crafter of multigenerational stories, perhaps second only to Marquez.
In this book however, as in much of Steinbeck’s work, he seems to have no idea what to do with his female characters. Nearly all of them are bizarrely caricatured, either grimly silent and moralized or pathologically unredeemable. In both such cases, women in the novel are consistently otherized and possess no real agency. The result is a novel which, while notable for its ambition, is extremely clumsy with its female characters and strangely lacks any self-awareness about it.
East of Eden, overly encumbered by direct biblical analogies, has an Adam, a Cain and an Abel, each with a degree of nuance. Yet Steinbeck has no interest at all in a cogent arc for Cathy, whom the narrator (rather lamely) declares from the outset as a “malformed soul” and who is this ludicrously overwrought as a projection of human depravity. The novel commits itself entirely to her vilification and to the reification of sin through her, in my opinion squandering much of its credibility in the process.
The book no doubt has an enduring readership and critical reputation. Unfortunately, it is entirely marred for me by its misogynistic archetypes and its equivocations of moral turpitude with a feminine “lack” (I’ll leave you to figure out what Steinbeck means by this 🙄).
I am tempted to call this a bad book.

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