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Book Review: The Long Valley

The Long Valley by John Steinbeck.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

The last time I read any of John Steinbeck’s fiction was back in high school, when I was required to read The Pearl and Of Mice and Men for my English Literature ‘O’ level, a qualification now known as GCSE. Even though it was many years ago, I still remember Lennie’s dream of living off the fat of the land.

The Long Valley is a collection of Steinbeck’s short stories mostly set in the Salinas Valley in California, his birthplace. It includes such classics as The Chrysanthemums, and The Red Pony. As a collection, it makes an excellent introduction to Steinbeck’s short form work.

There are many great stories, but my favourite is probably The Red Pony, even though it was sad and cruel in parts. Most of the works contain beautiful scene setting and description that capture the love Steinbeck clearly feels for his home. There is strong characterisation too, and the way he shapes his characters with a deft, light touch is subtle and masterful.

The only criticism I have is that he uses too many adverbs in places, and some of them are difficult to relate to, such as the concept of walking “martially”. Some stories also have little sub-plots that don’t go anywhere, like the old man who appears then disappears in The Red Pony.

All this can be forgiven, though, and I do recommend reading The Long Valley. I got a lot of pleasure from dipping in and out of these wonderfully nostalgic stories.

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