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'THE OTHER SIDE OF EDEN: LIFE WITH JOHN STEINBECK' Son of author led chaotic life



Published: Sun, June 10, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



John Steinbeck IV died unexpectedly in 1991 during back surgery.

By ROB STOUT

SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR

& quot;The Other Side of Eden: Life with John Steinbeck, & quot; by John Steinbeck IV and Nancy Steinbeck with forward by Andrew Harvey (Prometheus Books, $27)

The sons (and sometimes daughters) of famous writers often have little luck in living their own lives, and so it was for John Steinbeck IV, namesake of the Nobel Prize winning author of & quot;The Grapes of Wrath & quot; and countless other American classics.

As a free lance writer, the younger Steinbeck had contributed to a number of magazines, including The New Yorker, as well as gaining some notoriety with & quot;In Touch, & quot; a 1969 memoir of his experiences in Vietnam. Yet on the surface what seemed to be an independently successful career, & quot;getting out from the under that famous dominating shadow & quot; proved to be impossible, and was ultimately blamed by Steinbeck for his alcoholism and a number of other inherited addictions.

For the elder Steinbeck, the attention from his depression-era plight of the Joad family turned him into an unwilling celebrity. Keeping only a small circle of intimates, he maintained a shell of solitude, riding out both success and failure largely in silence for 30 years.

Death in 1968: Following his father's death in 1968, Steinbeck remained relatively quiet concerning the familial side of his father, and it was only before his own death in 1991, during routine back surgery, that he had begun a memoir of his childhood years. Left unfinished, his widow has completed this final testament that weaves together her husband's privileged, yet highly chaotic life, with her own memories of marriage to the son of a celebrated literary icon.

It is from the odd juncture of three highly complex psychological portraits that raises this memoir to a level more sophisticated than the standard tale of famous family wounds.

After Steinbeck met Nancy in 1975, they began a mutual search for spiritual truth & quot;that could spring them free of these inherited agonies. & quot; During this trek, the reader meets characters as diverse as the Dalai Lama, William Burroughs, Abbie Hoffman and a host of counterculture figures that Steinbeck liked to refer to as & quot;Hippie Trivial Pursuit. & quot;

New material: Although completing the first draft of & quot;Legacy & quot; just months before his death, some would argue to judge Steinbeck's initial thoughts and chronological gaps on such a clouded relationship as unfair. While there is some merit to this position, there is still a certain amount of new material concerning the elder Steinbeck that, complete or not, will be of interest to scholars and his readership alike.

Ultimately, through Nancy, Steinbeck did find sobriety and momentary happiness before his death. Nancy writes of this serene period with much of the spirituality that supported these two wounded souls, but also with a disturbing sense of the past and the fatalistic grip that shaped her husband and ultimately contributed to his untimely demise.




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