JOHN STEINBECK – East of Eden. Viking Press, hardcover, September 1952. Bantam F1267, paperback, 1954. Many later reprint editions. Film: Warner Brothers, 1955. With James Dean, Julie Harris, Richard Davalos, Raymond Massey, Jo Van Fleet, and Burl Ives. Director: Elia Kazan.

   I recently picked up East of Eden and had a go at it, and I can recommend it highly to anyone who loves that feeling of getting deeply immersed in a great trashy novel.

   Eden has it all: Sex, God, Violence, Love, Hate, Money … everything you look for in a trashy book, and so seldom find in a great one, put across with some of John Steinbeck’s finest prose, and that’s some of the best there is.

   There’s also something that appealed to me personally: late in he book there’s a brief fugue with a character named Joe Venuto, a cat-house ramrod — who would have been played in the 30s by Jack LaRue or in the 40s by Dan Duryea — who gets sent out by the Madame to round up a whore-errant.

   This leads to a passage like something out of a Gold Medal Original, with Joe haunting the shabby underworlds o nearby towns, than holing up in a sleazy hotel room with a pint of whiskey as he tries to figure out the angles.

   It’s classic hard-boiled stuff, and though this is just a minor bit in a panorama novel, I get the feeling if Ace or Avon had published East of Eden in the 50s, Joe would have been on the cover.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #51, May 2007.