I liked the history, I liked the social message, I loved Tom and Al Joad. The title 'The Grapes of Wrath' is a perfect example of literary genius and it has a way of reaching out and smacking the reader with its multi-faceted and resonant meaning halfway through the story. What I missed in this one was the ultimate question. The books I love, the really great ones, have a question or an issue around which the whole story pivots. The Grapes of Wrath doesn't have that. Most obviously it's about a family's struggle in tough pre-union dust-bowl days. But that's it. The family struggles to survive, and struggles , and struggles. At the end they're still struggling but as the reader, you've come to like them by that time and you want them to prevail and be 'o.k.', but alas, the world may never know...
I'm a big fan of Steinbeck. I was completely taken with East of Eden and Of Mice and Men. Travels with Charley gets two thumbs up from me. The main difference between, for example, East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath is that East of Eden has the burning question that the reader follows through each page. Grapes of Wrath misses that and it becomes a process of checking in with the characters each time you pick it up to find out they are just as you left them, struggling, hungry, miserable. And at the end when you think you'll see some resolution of some kind- for better or for worse- you leave the Joads just as you found them, struggling, hungry, miserable.
Not to mention that very last scene- the last two paragraphs... oh my, well let's just say it was too much for me... Even in the case of extreme despair I can't fathom the plan of action Rose of Sharon and her mother come upon and it's like tasting something rotten at the very end of an otherwise decent meal. The rest of it was fine but what you'll always remember best is that last terrible bite.
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