Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Red Pony and "Junius Maltby"

Even when I don't like Steinbeck, I like him. I prefer The Red Pony to The Pearl, but neither of them are really favorites of mine. (I'm more of an East of Eden and Of Mice and Men fan.)

However, Steinbeck does "straightforward yet subtle" better than any writer I know. The action doesn't exactly build in this collection; each story has it's own moment of crisis, but I loved how Steinbeck's theme of violence and its relationship to "becoming a man" wandered through the stories and sat down at the simple conclusion (though I still felt like I wanted more out of the last story in The Red Pony).

My copy of The Red Pony tacked the short story "Junius Maltby" (part of the Pastures of Heaven collection) to the end: an unusual addition. "Junius Maltby" is a fine story, but it has parable quality that seems at odds with The Red Pony's more realistic style. But both of the stories play with the elements of boyhood, and The Red Pony is so short that few publishers seem willing to print it alone. (You'll find copies of the The Red Pony with The Pearl or Tortilla Flat on Amazon, but very few of just The Red Pony.)

I'm surprised that this novella/collection is so frequently assigned in early high school (perhaps because of length and the age of the protagonist?)--I think the ending would have been frustratingly anti-climatic for me at that age. But maybe I'm not giving high schoolers enough credit.

Side Note: Apparently, Aaron Copland did the music for the 1949 movie version of The Red Pony. I don't have much desire to see the movie, but I'd love to hear the soundtrack.

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