To a God UnknownTo a God Unknown by John Steinbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

what a transition for me: from a mythopoeic ghost story to a mythopoeic gaia tale. i am reading on a high plane indeed. gettin’ a little dizzy up here.

steinbeck’s tale is, however, one that every californian should know, because it is like to happen again. recent years in california have been pretty fat, as far as rains go. while i’m not rearing any cattle out of my apartment, if i were, they’d be some pretty glossy, frisky critters, because the grass this year is thick upon the hills.

but this is california, and the drought is always coming. and it always does.

steinbeck’s poor vermont farmer got told this precious bit of info the moment he bought his southern monterey county ranch, and like a lot of easterners, he didn’t get it. refused to believe it. stocked up on cows and had a couple really fine years, until the drought came.

i have to say, steinbeck’s depiction of poor joseph going bonkers as day stretches after day and still, no rains come is pretty–well, accurate. even those of us who don’t make a living in a fashion that relies on rains can feel it, when the months stretch on and the rains don’t come. it’s a sort of itchy feeling, a wrongness, part of the mind entirely occupied in waiting and watching. for joseph, it’s maddening. following along with his deepening nutjobbery is at base recognizable to a californian.

but it’s still eerie. there but for the grace of an unknown god go i, ha.

steinbeck gets dinged a lot for being archetypal to the point of cartoonishness, and i won’t say he doesn’t deserve a gentle chiding (or maybe two, where this book is concerned) for it. but i gotta give him credit for trying (and largely succeeding, i think) to convey the huge, disinterested, and implacable sense one gets from the california landscape. california could indeed shrug us all off into the ocean, with barely a yawn, and those of us who live here know it deep in our bones. and yet it is beautiful and rich, truly edenic, when it wants to be. steinbeck was californian to his marrow. and he’s infused this book throughout with that beautiful, horrible, intoxicating sense of the land.

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