I saw the film of this when I was 16 and fell in love with James Dean, so when this book was suggested for a readers group I used to belong to, I was very enthusiastic. I had never read anything by John Steinbeck either.
I read a lot of women writers and love the more feminine style of writing - lyrical, cyclical, repetitive and pattern-like qualities of Jeanette Winterson or Toni Morrison etc. However it was refreshing to have a change and read a more linear plotline written in a more straight forward language that contains its own beauties and treasures.
As always the book was more complicated than the film which had taken plot lines from the various generations in the book and condensed them into one. Also the relationships within the family were much more complex, adding more for the reader to chew on.
The book however, presents with no ambiguity, one of the most hideously compelling female characters I think I have ever encountered - Cathy. Steinbeck describes her often as animal-like, making curious noises and with 'sharp little teeth'. The other characters perceptions of her add an almost diabolic quality to her motivations. This is most evident during the labour scene with Samuel Hamilton when she bites into his hand, tearing it deliberately with her teeth. She scared me, in the same way that Linda Blair scared me in The Exhorcist. Small suggestions of emotion (eg glimmers of feeling toward Abel, however slight), betray you into hoping for some light in such a dark spirit. Her cold, emotionless and ruthless encounters with her family and those who are kind to her belie explaination as she calculates each ones usefulness and demise. We are told early in the book that 'she was not like other people' and born bad, like a 'monster'.
Cathy is finely counterbalanced by many other good and warm characters, wise like Liza Hamilton or Lee, or kind like Samuel. There are other females too who are smart and feisty, my favourite being Olive and her hilairious encounter with an aeroplane. There are others like the brothers (of both generations) who fall in between good and bad, as most of us do, all threading their way through this epic story of family complications and the extended family who share our lives. I am sure some may find the characters one dimensional or stereotypical but I enjoyed this book very much for its warmth and as a good, solid story.
Bookrags have a guide for readers groups:-