Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Burning Bright


Steinbeck, John. 1950. Burning Bright. 128 pages.

Burning Bright is a "play in story form." A short novella in three acts revolving around a marriage: Joe Saul and Mordeen. Joe Saul is an older man, and Mordeen is his devoted wife. She'd do anything to please him. What Joe Saul wants more than anything is a child, a son. But what Mordeen knows--and Friend Ed knows as well--is that Joe Saul is sterile. What's a good wife to do? Enter Victor. A man who is mad over Mordeen. At first, the reader doesn't know what kind of madness this is...is it lust, is it love, is it obsession? He wants Mordeen. Mordeen wants a baby to give her husband.

This is a strange little book. If you've read it, I'd be curious to hear what YOU think of it. While the characters remain the same in all three acts, there is a change of particulars. The first act is set at the circus. Joe Saul and Victor are circus men. The second act is set on a farm. Joe Saul and Victor are farmers. The third act is set at sea. Joe Saul and Victor are sailors. See what I mean about strange?

The book explores several things really. The need and desire for children. It examines--in a seemingly small way--nature versus nurture. Joe Saul--in the beginning--is speaking about legacies. Since it's the first act, he's talking about generation of generation of generations in his family being circus men. The circus is something "in the blood." You're born into it. There's a difference--a notable difference in his opinion--between tried-and-true family-born performers and newcomers who are trying to break into show business. Victor--as a newcomer--just doesn't measure up. This is repeated again in the second act, he talks about how farming comes naturally. Passing on the family farm, etc. Learning to hear from the earth, the plants and soil, from the time you can toddle. I can't remember if the third act makes the same connection with the sea or not. But one of the themes is legacies. Are you who you are because of biology? There at the end, Joe Saul, begins to realize that maybe just maybe it is how you are raised, how you are loved that makes the difference.

"Look down. Here he lies sleeping, to teach me. Our dear race, born without courage but very brave, born with a flickering intelligence and yet with beauty in its hands. What animal has made beauty, created it, save only we? With all our horrors and our faults, somewhere in us there is a shining. That is the most important of all facts. There is a shining."


It continues...

"I had to walk into the black to know--to know that every man is father to all children and every child must have all men as father..."

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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8 comments:

Debi said...

Hmmm, another one I've never heard of. And yeah, I definitely see what you mean about strange! But I'm curious...did you like it?

Becky said...

Debi, when I first read it, I didn't think I liked it much. But now that it's been a day or two...I am beginning to appreciate it more. I don't "love" it as I did Tortilla Flat or Travels with Charley. But I did like it.

Susan said...

Becky, I just had to say I love the new look of your blog! I'm busy catching up with adding updated posts thingy to my blog, which I hope will let me get to my favourite blogs more often than I currently seem to be doing (yours is one I miss getting far more often than I like). Well done, and it's easy to navigate and see things. Some day I'll figure out how to get three columns in mine! I even wentlooking for the template and couldnt' find it. well done, Becky! :-D and I just might be joining another of your challenges.....

Carl V. Anderson said...

This may be a terrible place to ask t his, but have you or anyone else reading this ever read a short story by Steinbeck about birds? I know, how vague can you get? I remember reading either a short story or an excerpt from a larger book when I was in elementary school that had something to do with birds...I'm thinking ones that were in a tree in the back yard. Could have been this was something autobiographical. I've longed to read that again since this vague memory has stayed with me over the years and any time I've looked...and granted it has been a looong time...I don't see anything that looks familiar.

Donna (Bites) said...

The Count says you have one award waiting for you at Bites. Ha ha ha!

Unknown said...

I'm amazed at how many books you read!! I might have to start checking out Steinbeck, too, you've piqued my curiosity.

I nominated you and your blog for an award here.

Sandra said...

Sounds interesting. My library hasn't got this book. Perhaps I'll put in a purchase request for a copy and see what happens. Thanks for reviewing it.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of this book, but it sounds cool. I like books that shift around the way the story is told. Thanks for the review!

Kim