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The Other Side of Eden: Life With John Steinbeck Hardcover – February 1, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
The title conveys the dual focus of this memoir: "life with John Steinbeck" refers both to the famous American novelist as seen by his son, and to Nancy Steinbeck's life with the son, her late husband, John Steinbeck IV. Nancy's introduction explains that Steinbeck IV commenced his autobiography in 1990, and after his untimely death in 1991, she "needed to finish his manuscript for [their] family." The book is in short sections, some by John, some by Nancy (a few are coauthored); they both tell sad tales of dysfunction and abuse. The son, a lost soul who never fully developed his own identity apart from his father's fame, tells of a childhood of "Promethean intensity," characterized "by shameless, alcoholic abuse and neglect." After being sent to Vietnam at age 20, John became a journalist (winning an Emmy), Buddhist monk, father, social activist and drug addict. With the exception of the last two years of his life, his periods of sobriety didn't last, though his tumultuous marriage to Nancy, against all odds, did. Nancy's story, perhaps the more dominant and message-driven, is all too familiar: loyal and enraged wife of an intelligent, creative addict who promises everything and delivers little. That intermittent "little" was enough for Nancy, however: "you just plain loved him because he had guts... with a brain... with words... with heart." Little new information on the senior Steinbeck appears, but Nancy does contribute an interesting, somewhat iconoclastic point of view rife with New Age inflections. While John's prose is rich with imagery and Nancy's story is sympathetic, a sense of aimlessness pervades the book. Only devoted Steinbeck fans will feel compelled to read this dual memoir. (Feb.)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Nancy Steinbeck writes here about her father-in-law, the celebrated American novelist John Steinbeck, and about his son, her husband of 12 years, the late John Steinbeck IV. Her narrative frames her husband's memoir of life with his father, which was left incomplete at his death in 1991. John Steinbeck IV, a soldier, correspondent, and junkie who at one time lived "on the dregs of his substantial biannual Steinbeck royalty check," writes of his bitter resentments (family and country) amid the landscape of the 1960s and 1970s. His wife, a former therapist, writes of her role as a codependent and describes herself and her husband as tortured "inner angry babies." Squandered privilege, legacy, medication, and intimacy abound, and irresponsibility and bad choices commingle with na vet , delusions, transcendental meditation, and self-absorption. John Steinbeck IV's essays might appeal to readers interested in the the political era and post-traumatic stress syndrome experienced by veterans of the Vietnam War. But all in all, this is writing from a self-imposed trap.DScott Hightower, Fordham Univ., New York
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
This is an illuminating, intimate picture of a writer whose works I love. It is also the gripping, tragic, cautionary tale of a man driven to insanity and death by alcoholism and addiction.
This same sad story plays out for thousands of others every hour, day, month, year, nationally and globally.
It's not an easy read, but it's a very important one that's hard to put down.
I found this book very interesting, and very human. Mr. Steinbeck IV tells of his going to Vietnam twice during the USA Vietnam war, once in the military involved in radio broadcasting, and again as a civilian war correspondent, and liaison between an island colony led by a cheerful, Quixotic, ecumenical Buddhist monk with a spinal injury. He got an article published entitled "The importance of being stoned in Vietnam", which got him an invitation to testify before a Senate committee, and probably precipitated his arrest and detention, but his likeability and candor got him released and honorably discharged. He also wrote a book called "In touch" and won an Emmy for a TV show called "The world of Charley Company". The book conveys many interesting impressions about an amazing time in world and American history. The only parts I felt was artificial were some passages with John's name on them which sounded to me like they were fulfilling a perceived obligation to be fancy with language in order to fulfill people's expectations that a famous author's son would be able to be fancy with language. Towards the end, his poems and notes are sampled, and those seem so much more authentic and direct. Other than those few passages, I felt the narration and writing was authentic and sincere, and sounded true, and was amazing in it's scope and detail. Some of the observations and critiques offered were very bold, fearlessly honest, and insightful. One such was the critique of Al-Anon workers being unnecessarily condescending and haughty toward Nancy at some point. She insisted on being real, and relentlessly refused to treat her husband as a disposable person, and yet she also learned to take care of herself and not sacrifice herself to the whims of alcoholic/addicts. She describes how she learned to develop and enforce boundaries to protect herself and her children against her husband's continued misbehavior, but also let him back in after compelling him to realize she was not going to enable his misbehavior anymore. These processes and her rationale is explained clearly. One such incident is when she goes to pick him up from a rehab center in Sebastopol, and scolds him for trying to manipulate her. They also detail how they both eventually deplore the excesses of the Tibetan lama & guru, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and Nancy explains how a support and survivors group forms in Boulder, Colorado, which continues to offer support and perspective, and the excesses are compared to the Catholic priesthood scandals, which seems an apt parallel. Nancy also describes how she countered a team of malpractice defense lawyers, and showed mental toughness and endurance after her husband died in surgery. All in all, I found it a very interesting and rewarding read. It is true it was patched together by his widow after Mr. Steinbeck's death, and so it is a heroic accomplishment and I feel it is very worthwhile reading. It is very, very personal, and ultimately celebrates a family's and a couple's love that transcended and endured and gave so much love to everyone around.
This book is just TOO personal, those that had anything to do with this book being published had some goal in mind...but what is that goal...to tell the world J.S was not as his books came off as...this book is just a sad,sad thing to do...these people have much to reconcile still, but, where is the writer's sobriety...they should all have gone into therapy many,many decades ago when they were losing it.
This book made me sad and let down...no one should hold anyone in such high regard in life, as we are all so very flawed...like this book.
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