Monday, November 9, 2015

Book Review: Burning Bright by John Steinbeck

Released in 1950 (the paperback edition I read published in November 18th, 2006 by Penguin Classics)
Age group: Adult
Pages: 128
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

The last of John Steinbeck’s play-novelettes, Burning Bright was the author’s final attempt after 1937’s Of Mice and Men and 1942’s The Moon is Down to create what he saw as a new, experimental literary form.  Four scenes, four people: the husband who yearns for a son, ignorant of his own sterility; the wife who commits adultery to fulfill her husband’s wish; the father of the child; and the outsider whose actions will affect them all. In this turn on a medieval morality play, Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck casts an unwavering light on these four intertwined lives, revealing in their finely drawn circumstances the universal contours of vulnerability and passion, desperation and desire. This edition features an introduction and notes for further reading by Steinbeck scholar John Ditsky. 

Burning Bright was my first ever Steinbeck piece (I know, I know, WHY HAVEN'T I READ OF MICE AND MEN YET?) so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. As as theatre studies undergrad, I was interested about the play-novelette structure of the piece, but other than that, I really didn't have any expectations towards this one. And I am kind of happy that I didn't, because I was allowed to be surprised about how much I actually find myself enjoying this one.

Burning Bright is one of the books I will probably use in my essay for my American literature class, so I won't get too detailed in this review just to save stuff from the essay itself. But I do want to give an overall summary of my thoughts for you in case you are interested of possibly reading this one. 

Burning Bright is set around four scenes involving four people - a husband who wants a son more than anything in order to keep his bloodline running, his wife who is willing to go to the distance to make her husband's dream come true, a young man who becomes entangled to the story through the actions of the wife, and an outsider, a friend of the husband, whose actions and thoughts have a role on how the events roll out. As the story goes on, the lives of these characters get more and more intertwined. 

I remember reading the morality play Everyman in university, and this one, slated as a "turn on a medieval morality play" definitely reminded me of that. I actually quite enjoyed Everyman and I think one of the reasons I liked this one is the fact that I was able to form connections between the two texts. I found the way Steinbeck works with different settings very interesting and I have a feeling it will be one of the main things I want to focus on in my essay. The story and the characters stay pretty much the same, but the setting changes, showing the universality of the situation.

As someone who has read quite a bit of plays, I found the structure of Burning Bright to be interesting. Like a play, it relies quite heavily on dialogue. But what separates it from traditional play texts is the extensive way it describes the settings. This allows the reader to imagine the settings more extensively. The story would have worked with just the dialogue, but as someone who likes to visualize things as much as possible, I found this form of "play writing" really working for me! 

After reading Burning Bright I am definitely interested to dive in to Steinbeck's other play-novelettes and novels. For a long time, Steinbeck has been one of those authors for me I haven't know much about but have always thought I should read, and I am happy that this one introduced me to him. Burning Bright is entertaining, interesting and quick to read that I definitely recommend especially to those, who like me, have been meaning to read Steinbeck but just haven't got around to doing it yet. 

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