The Pastures of Heaven - John Steinbeck,  Sean Runnette
Where John Steinbeck is concerned, I'm an unapologetic fan. Having only made his acquaintance relatively recently after a visit to Monterey prompted me to read [b:Cannery Row|4799|Cannery Row|John Steinbeck||824028], I've fallen in love with his clean prose and striking use of imagery, his powerful evocation of place, his ability to turn ordinary people into memorable characters and the deep humanity which is at the heart of his writing.

This was the second of Steinbeck's works to be published. It's a short story cycle in which each of the stories is set in a valley named "The Pastures of Heaven", which Steinbeck locates in the area between Salinas and Monterey. While the stories are self-contained, there are some overlapping characters, particularly the Munroe family. The Munroes move from the city to the Pastures of Heaven when they purchase an abandoned farm the locals consider to be haunted. Although they make a success of the farm and of their lives, their appearance in each of the stories heralds a change for the worse in the life of the central character of that story. The Munroes act as agents of a malignant fate, as they unwittingly shatter the dreams, fantasies or illusions of their neighbours.

Unlike Cannery Row, with which this work shares some similarities in terms of its structure, this is one of Steinbeck's sad books. It's not without humour, but it lacks the buoyant mood of the later work and the easy affection Steinbeck shows for its characters. In these stories, the mood is more sombre, the trials of the characters more poignant, the ultimate fate of the characters less positive. But, as in [b:The Grapes of Wrath|4395|The Grapes of Wrath|John Steinbeck||2931549], Steinbeck's characters are survivors. Their dreams may be shattered, but they live on, doing their best to cope.

Some of the stories are better than others, but all of them are infused with Steinbeck's deep understanding of the connection between human beings and that place in the landscape they call home. Steinbeck was just thirty when this book was published. How someone so young could be so wise about the human condition and write about it with such beauty takes my breath away.

I listened to the audiobook edition of this work. Sean Runnette's narration was excellent.