A Biography
Email this review


 Filtering out the mythic anecdotes that have built up around Steinbeck, Parini (The Last Station, 1990, etc.) presents a straightforwardly readable portrait and assessment of one of the last practitioners of the Great American Novel. For one of the most popular American authors worldwide, Steinbeck seemed happier as an aimless young man, surviving off odd jobs, intermittently attending Stanford University, and harboring an intense conviction of his talent, than as a bestselling author, Broadway and Hollywood success, and Pulitzer and Nobel prize winner. Steinbeck's personal life was complicated by his intense need for reassurance and stimulation, at odds with a sometimes withdrawn, rigidly principled nature--a product, Parini suggests, of his loving but forceful mother and distant father. But his friendships with the mythologist Joseph Campbell, the eccentric marine biologist Ed Ricketts, actor Burgess Meredith (who starred in the film Of Mice and Men), and the editor Pascal Corvini were long and deep. Campbell and Ricketts had considerable influence on Steinbeck's larger vision: the latter, in his ``organismal'' approach to man's place in society and on earth, and the former, in his mythic sensibility (though their friendship was cut short by Campbell's affair with Steinbeck's first wife, Carol). Parini also gives Carol Steinbeck due credit for her editorial assistance to her difficult husband and her social activism. Parini underscores Steinbeck's passion for writing, whether journalism during WW II, travelogues of scientific expeditions and journeys across the US and USSR, or a translation of Malory. Rounding out this perceptive biography, Parini judiciously charts the paradoxes of Steinbeck's later years: his happier third marriage complicated by his uneasy relationship with his sons from his second; his progressive disillussionment with postwar America and his equivocal support of the Vietnam war; and the hostile critical reception of his Nobel Prize. Parini's persuasive and lucid biography creates a vivid diptych of a turbulent individual and a neglected paragon of American letters. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1995
ISBN: 0-8050-1673-2
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1994


FictionTHE DAMASCUS ROAD by Jay Parini
by Jay Parini
NonfictionTHE WAY OF JESUS by Jay Parini
by Jay Parini
NonfictionEMPIRE OF SELF by Jay Parini
by Jay Parini
NonfictionPROMISED LAND by Jay Parini
by Jay Parini