Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Murder by John Steinbeck (Short Story) - Notes and Analysis

John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors. He's up there on the top five. All of his works, at least the ones I've read, are well-written and enjoyable. His novels are among the most realistic pieces of literature that I've encountered. He has this distinct style that permeates his sentences and paragraphs. His novels Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath, and East of Eden occupy a special place in my literary heart. Especially Of Mice and Men. That book warmed and broke my heart, in that order. I rarely reread books no matter how much I liked them. I've read Of Mice and Men multiple times. The funny thing is that it's not even my favorite Steinbeck novel. That honor goes to either Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden. I said funny in the sense that Of Mice and Men is my least favorite of the three but it's the one that I've read several times. Maybe it's because of the fact that it's the shortest of the three.

Anyway, I came across Steinbeck's short story The Murder on a copy of an anthology book called The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century. Edited by Tony Hillerman, this book contains the best (supposedly) American mystery stories of the 20th century. The collection starts with O. Henry's A Retrieved Reformation (1903) and ends with Dennis Lehane's Running Out of Dog (1999).

Before I started reading the book, I quickly scanned the Table of Contents to check the featured stories. The Steinbeck story immediately caught my eye so it was the first story in the anthology that I read. And it was good. Not great but good. Just like most of Steinbeck's work, the story is set in California. The plot is quite simple. Rancher falls in love with and marries a beautiful woman. Rancher catches the woman in bed with another man. Rancher kills the man.

It's not a unique story at all. Hundreds of thousands of stories follow exactly the same plot line. But it's a Steinbeck story. So it's special, and good, and enjoyable. I particularly liked the way Steinbeck built the story towards the end. The twists and turns are kind of predictable but who cares (at least in this case). Steinbeck's prose is pure literary magic. That's what matters. This is a story you should definitely read if you ever come across it.

You can easily find The Murder online. Google has you covered. But if you want to read it in a good ol' book, I guess you need to get a copy of The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century. Or you can buy The Long Valley, a collection of 12 short stories (The Murder included) by Steinbeck. Or you can get The Murder, a collection of four short stories by Steinbeck that was published in 2005. The book contains The Murder, The Vigilante, Breakfast, and The Chrysanthemums.

"Jim turned and quickly stole back across the kitchen and down the back steps. He walked up the yard to the water trough again, and sat down on the edge of it. The moon was white as chalk, and it swam in the water, and lighted the straws and barley dropped by the horses' mouths. Jim could see the mosquito wigglers, tumbling up and down, end over end, in the water, and he could see a newt lying in the sun moss in the bottom of the trough.

He cried a few dry, hard, smothered sobs, and wondered why, for his thought was of the grassed hilltops and of the lonely summer wind whisking along." - The Murder, John Steinbeck