Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: The Long Valley

The Long Valley by John Steinbeck

The Long Valley is a collection of short stories by my newly crowned Favorite Writer, John Steinbeck. With this set of short stories, he wrested the title from David James Duncan. Don't get me wrong, Duncan still has a nice cozy spot in my heart, but Steinbeck has the ability to evoke a feeling of familiarity in me. Not a familiarity in the sense that I feel like I've already read what he is writing, but a familiarity in the characters, and the settings. I feel like I know those people, and that I can relate to them, and their lives. Steinbeck puts me there, in the character's shoes with an ease that is baffling.

But I'll stop gushing about Steinbeck and instead gush about The Long Valley. This collection of twelve short stories would make a good introduction to Steinbeck and his style, or a make a solid reintroduction to Steinbeck for those who haven't read his work since high school. Each story is great in its own way. There weren't any that I disliked, and they ranged enough in content so that I was never bored of the short format. Steinbeck often does more in ten to twenty pages than another author will do in their entire career. Some were strange (The Chrysanthemums, Johhny Bear) and others were dark, (The Raid, The Vigilante), but they were all great, and were great examples of the short form.

For me the best part of this collection was the inclusion of The Red Pony a novella told in four parts. It comprises nearly half of the book, and is essentially four short stories linked together by the same four characters. Each part is good for different reasons, but I think what made them good to me was that in each of the stories, I could find a similar parallel in my own life. I think that is Steinbeck's true talent, his ability to take basic human issues and struggles, and put them into story in a way that is lasting.

I wouldn't necessarily say that The Long Valley is essential Steinbeck, that would be Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and The Pearl, but The Long Valley is great stuff, and I think it is still a must read. I couldn't really find anything to complain about, and I give this one my highest recommendation.

Grade: A+

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