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The Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck

The Pastures of Heaven (1932)

by John Steinbeck

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This is an early Steinbeck work (1932), and marks the moment where he really discovered his trademark style, a kind of naturalism-sentimentality mix. The stories are all set in a fictional California valley called Las Pasturas del Cielo, which seems to represent the last frontier space in America, a place where people believe they can go to regenerate their lives and fortunes. But as the characters discover, there is no escaping human nature, no escaping the curses of heredity, bad luck, or social ostracism. The Pastures of Heaven is, in the end, an illusion. It promises escape and a new beginning, but inevitably delivers disillusionment and disappointment. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
The Pastures of Heaven is John Steinbeck’s 1932 collection of twelve intertwining short stories set in a fertile valley near Salinas and Monterey, California. As time passes, the characters, all of whom know each other in the way that people in small communities usually do, come and go as their individual stories and fates unfold. Some set their roots so deeply that they and their descendants will be there forever, but others are only there long enough for some personal tragedy or failure to send them on their way.

In the collection’s second story, one Bert Battle, a man with a history of personal failure, comes to the valley to take over a farm that locals believe is both cursed and haunted. Bert, though, makes such a success of the farm that he is soon accepted into the community and even becomes one of the most influential citizens in the entire valley. Reflecting upon his great success at the valley’s general store one day, Bert remarks, “Maybe my curse and the farm’s curse got to fighting and killed each other off.” This leads the storekeeper to make a prophetic observation of his own, one that sets the tone for the rest of the book: “Maybe your curse and the farm’s curse have mated and gone into a gopher hole like a pair of rattlesnakes. Maybe there’ll be a lot of baby curses crawling around the Pastures the first thing we know.”

It was only a joke on the storekeeper’s part – but that is exactly what would happen.

Several of Steinbeck’s stories are about dreamers who cannot resist the lure of the valley’s beauty and tranquility. They come seeking shelter but find that their personal failings travel to the valley with them. One man tries to raise his little boy in a kind of isolated poverty he believes will give the child an untainted life of the mind, only to watch his world crumble when school authorities demand that his son attend public school. A woman comes to town with her mentally disturbed daughter hoping that the solitude will be good for both of them; an abandoned baby is found and taken into the care of a local rancher; two sisters decide to supplement their income by opening up a home business; and a new schoolteacher comes to town hoping to leave her family’s past behind her for good. And it does not end well for any of them.

Along the way, a few dreams do seem to come true. But those “baby curses” are always out there waiting to destroy those who dare to dream, especially those who dare to dream as big as the protagonist of the collection’s next-to-last story (the stories are numbered, not titled separately). Richard Whiteside came to the West to start a family dynasty and he immediately went to work building the family home that he envisioned would anchor the Whitesides there for many generations to come. But Richard’s personal “baby curse” just smiled and waited in the background.

The Pastures of Heaven is certainly not an optimistic short story collection, but readers of the book will get a preview of many of the themes that would influence John Steinbeck’s work throughout the rest of his career. ( )
1 vote SamSattler | Sep 4, 2015 |
Fine collection of excellent short stories ( )
  Phoenixangelfire | Apr 6, 2014 |
This was not Steinbeck's first book, but it was the one that caused people to start taking notice of his talent. The book reminded me of another favorite short story cycle of mine, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. Both books follow individual characters living near each other in a small place. Some of the same characters drift in and out of the stories. These books are dissections of small town and country life, where on the surface it looks normal, just an average place, but underneath is a seething mass of human nature. The subject matter is often dark in both books. Neither Steinbeck nor Anderson were writers to shy away from exposing the shadow selves we so often repress, knowingly or not. And they do not judge; they simply show, as all good writers do. ( )
  S.D. | Apr 4, 2014 |
I'd always assumed that Steinbeck was an overly sentimental and moralizing author who would annoy me with rotten cliches about the value of every human being and simple rural life while emphasizing romantic and simple tragedy in a way that tread perilously close kitsch. Turns out I was wrong. Not that he's totally unlike the writer I imagined, but it was a caricature that, if I'd really thought about it, I should have realized couldn't be true. It's not the first time and (sadly) won't be the last time that I've taken an exaggerated dislike to something just because it's popular.

The book itself? The characters are (mostly) well drawn, the stories interesting, the setting well realized. Most of the stories seem to turn on the notion that, ultimately, we all live alone with our various needs, desires, and fears. When people try to intervene in the lives of their neighbors it often goes sour, through a lack of understanding or a conflation of their neighbors needs with their own. Family is paramount and there are a couple of examples where the bond between husband and wife transcends the general limitation on humanity's ability to know and support one another. Interesting, the bonds between parents and children seem much looser. There are a few times where I felt it was all being laid on just a tad thick.

The description of small scale agriculture is lovely and sentimental and I can't help but think that it would have been particularly potent for my parents and others (many of my parents' age) who are one generation removed from the land. I wonder how much this contributed to Steinbeck's popularity in the 20th century and how it will change in the years to come as fewer and fewer people have recent family, or youthful personal, experience with life on a small farm. ( )
1 vote Brendan.H | Jul 21, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Steinbeck, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Nagel, JamesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stahl, BenCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vittorini, ElioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my father and mother
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When the Carmelo Mission of Alta California was being built, some time around 1776, a group of twenty converted Indians abandoned religion during a night, and in the morning they were gone from their huts.
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Book description
A collection of interrelated stories. Steinbeck charts the gradual disintegration of a peaceful farming community in a lush California valley. As he writes of a family suddenly made to feel 'poor' through the charity of a neighbor, of the wanton destruction of a retarded boy's tenuous hold on reality, and of a father jealous of suspected attentions paid to his daughter, Steinbeck depicts the destructive impact of one family's insensitivity on the lives of all those around them.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140187480, Paperback)

Today, nearly forty years after his death, Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck remains one of America?s greatest writers and cultural figures. We have begun publishing his many works for the first time as blackspine Penguin Classics featuring eye-catching, newly commissioned art. This season we continue with the seven spectacular and influential books East of Eden, Cannery Row, In Dubious Battle, The Long Valley, The Moon Is Down, The Pastures of Heaven, and Tortilla Flat. Penguin Classics is proud to present these seminal works to a new generation of readers?and to the many who revisit them again and again."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:00 -0400)

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The insensitivity between neighbors leads to the gradual disintegration of a small California farm community.

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