Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dear John Steinbeck,

I realize it has been nearly sixty years since you published East of Eden. I also realize you are dead, so I don't expect many changes now, but you should realize that your masterful epic has a couple of flaws. Granted, they are flaws held in common with many of your contemporaries, but I think they are worth pointing out, if only to protect the young novelists.

1. Getting into the POV of a sociopath often doesn't work. Done too early, it never works. You let the tension out of the story. Sociopaths and psychopaths (why the APA has combined the two I shall never know) are inherently unpredictable. Yes, I would like to know their goals at some point, but I don't want to know from the first that they're making a lady suit or what-have-you. Hold the surprise as long as you can. Show us the whack-job from the POV of his/her future victims.

2. The narrative summary with which you present the entire history and geography of the Salinas Valley at the start of the book? Okay, this is to be expected in a novel that is soon to qualify for Medicare from a novelist who is soon to be as old as Bilbo except he's dead. It's old fashioned. I was gasping for a character by the time it ended. Whatever you do from that point, Don't Do It Again.

Got to Book Two or Part Two or whatever, and you did it again. Except it was even less than that. It was the writer commenting on the horribleness of the nineteenth century. Yes, the War of 1812 and everything. Seriously, kill me now. And this wasn't even good. Once you have jumped the shark with "women's thighs have lost their grasp" or somesuch, the one thing you want to do least in the world is to repeat that phrase a second time. Which you did, Mr. Steinbeck.

What followed in the next chapter? Another slab of narrative summary. I won't bother elaborating on the awfulness. The chapter after that one finally resumed with characters and story.

In short, All Story, All the Time. If you want to hold forth about the original British invasion, write an essay. Nobody wants to hear your POV in your novel. Even if you are John Steinbeck.

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