Here is no saga of the underprivileged—no drama of social significance. Tenderness, which some felt was inherent in everything Steinbeck wrote, is muted almost to the vanishing point in this story of conflict within character, impact of character on character, of circumstances on personalities, of the difficult acceptance of individual choice as against the dominance of inherited traits. The philosophy is intimately interwoven with the pace of story, as he follows-from New England to California over some fifty odd years-the two families which hold stage center. There are the Trasks, brothers in two generations, strangely linked, strangely at war the one with the other; there are the Hamiltons (John Steinbeck's own forebears), a unique Irish born couple, the man an odd lovable sort of genius who never capitalizes on his ideas for himself, the tiny wife, tart, cold-and revealing now and again unexpected gentleness of spirit, the burgeoning family, as varied a tribe as could be found. And- on the periphery but integral to the deepening philosophy which motivates the story, there is the wise Chinese servant scholar and gentleman, who submerges his own goals to identify himself wholly with the needs of the desolate Adam Trask, crushed by his soulless wife's desertion, and the twin boys, Cal, violent, moody, basically strong enough to be himself—and Aron, gentle, unwilling to face disagreeable facts, beloved by all who met him. In counterpoint, the story follows too the murky career of Adam's wife, Cathy—who came to him from a mysteriously clouded past, and returned to a role for which she was suited—as a costly whore, and later as Madame in Salinas most corrupt "house," where the perversions of sex ridden males were catered to—and cruelty capitalized upon.
Shock techniques applied with rapier and not bludgeon will rule the book out for the tender-skinned. But John Steinbeck, the philosopher, dominates his material and brings it into sharply moral focus.