J U L Y 1 9 6 1
The Winter of Our Discontent, by John SteinbeckA review by Edward Weeks
The meaning of Good Friday was burned into Ethan as a boy, and it is ironic that on this day a series of small provocations -- a bribe offered and rejected, a fortuneteller at her cards, a remark of Mary's that prodded under the skin -- should startle him from his rut and even launch him on a new career. Eth lends himself to the conspiracy of events in such a human, doubting-Thomas way that before he knows it he is in up to his knees. He has two charming accomplices in Margie and Mary, the one tempting, the other pushing, and the gradual debasement of his honesty is absorbing and rather shocking to watch. It all happens to so effortlessly.
That his years at Harvard and his prowess in World War II should have left Ethan so feckless and so incompetent must be taken on faith; these phases of his career are touched so lightly as to be superficial, but what is genuine, familiar, and identifiable is the way Americans beat the game: the land-taking before the airport is built, the quick bucks, the plagiarism, the abuse of trust, the near theft, which, if it succeeds, can be glossed over -- these are the guilts with which Ethan will have to live in his coming prosperity, and one wonders how happily. John Steinbeck was born to write of the sea coast, and he does so with savor and love. His dialogue is full of life, the entrapment of Ethan is ingenious, and the morality in this novel marks Mr. Steinbeck's return to the mood and the concern with which he wrote The Grapes of Wrath.
Copyright © 1961 by Edward Weeks. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; July, 1961; Yankee Luck; Volume 208, No. 1; page 122.