I’ve been reading John Steinbeck’s short story cycle The Pastures of Heaven. This was not Steinbeck’s first book, but it was the one that caused people to start taking notice of his talent. The book reminds 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.
From story VI:
“They didn’t make conversation; rather they let a seedling of thought sprout by itself, and then watched with wonder while it sent out branching limbs. They were surprised at the strange fruit their conversation bore, for they didn’t direct their thinking, nor trellis nor trim it the way so many people do.”