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The Long Valley - John Steinbeck

I came to John Steinbeck's The Long Valley in the heels of his excellent novella, The Moon is Down. Not having read any of Steinbeck's writing for years, there was just something soothing about his prose that made me reach for another work of his. I must say that I was not disappointed.

The Long Valley is a collection of ten short stories, published in 1938. The stories are:

The Chrysanthemums
The White Quail
The Snake
The Raid
The Harness
The Vigilante
Johnny Bear
The Murder

At 186 pages, it provides a healthy dose of variety, and a nice sampler of what Steinbeck, as a writer, was capable of.

Those familiar with Steinbeck's writing will discover some familiar subjects and locations, especially the rolling California countryside where a lot of his work is set. Yet, while Steinbeck is undoubtedly famous for his work featuring the underdogs, and the out of luck characters he has become well know for, this collection of short stories explores a slightly darker side of his writing, one I was unaware of until now. The stories here are often dark in nature (not that Of Mice and Men was a cheerful tale by any means), and explore some darker thoughts inside the seemingly simple characters. There are stories of abuse, of murder, of revenge . . .

Steinbeck is a master of fluid prose. His narratives effortlessly flow from one character to the next, from a city setting to the farming communities settled among the hills and valleys. He visits hard-working farmers, devoted wives, immigrants, traveling hobos, and passionate gardeners. A cast of characters one would encounter without giving them much thought.

Yet, each one of them has an inner turmoil—at times subtle, and at time prominent—that adds a different dimension to each and every one of them. This dimension weaves in and out of the narrative, and can be overlooked unless the reader pays attention. Steinbeck's prose flows and flows, like a smooth stream where the rocks beneath the surface are hardly perceptible yet you are fully aware of their existence if you keep your eyes open.

And these rocks, the dirty secrets and dark thoughts of the characters are what makes this collection worth reading. Unlike in our contemporary works where violence, instability, and inner turmoil are 'in your face' to the point of dominating the story, Steinbeck's portrayal is subtle and almost nonchalant. It requires an active participation of the reader, as do most intelligent works.

Recommended for fans of Steinbeck, and for those who appreciate fine, timeless writing.