Of Steinbeck and Flynn and Great Literary Villains

Johann Thorsson

Staff Writer

Johann Thorsson is a native of Iceland, but spends much of his time in Bookland. He has lived in a few parts of the world but currently lives in Iceland with a pretty woman and a mischievous son who resembles Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) more each day. He has a complicated but ultimately useless degree in bioinformatics from a very pretty college in England. His favorite books are 1984, Flowers for Algernon and The English Patient. He hopes one day to call himself a writer without feeling like he's just fooling himself. Blog: Johann Thorsson - On Book and Writing Twitter: @johannthors

SPOILER ALERT! I will be discussing Gone Girl and East of Eden, and will give away much about both books. If you haven’t read them but plan to, you may want to bookmark this post for later reading and get cracking on the books first. Also: both those books are awesome and you really should prioritize your reading better.

Ok? Everyone ready?

eastofedenI just finished Steinbeck’s East of Eden (I know, I should have prioritized my reading better) and was just pure blown away. Partly because of Steinbeck’s writing, but also by the characters and the rich story. There is a female in East of Eden that, as I read, made me think more and more of a certain beautiful woman in one of the most talked-about books of the last couple of years, Gone Girl.

Amy Elliott Dunne is not all there. She is cold and distant but puts on a front, one she thinks people want to see. So, to most people she appears perfectly normal. Some would say she’s adorable. That is, of course, until she disappears and makes it look like her husband killed her.

Cathy Trask does the same in East of Eden; she appears likable and nice until we see what’s going on behind the scenes. She crawls to the house of brothers Adam and Charles, bloody and beaten, barely able to speak. Adam quickly falls for her, she encourages it and then drugs him and sleeps with his brother. Adam and Cathy get married and move to California, where she bears twins, shoots Adam in the shoulder and goes off to start a brothel in the next town. Before appearing at the Trask farm, we learn, she had beaten her sugar-daddy almost to death, having previously burned her childhood home down with her parents still inside. Cathy is not a nice person.

Gone Girl coverAnd Amy Dunne takes after her. Calculating and manipulative, putting on a face she thinks people want to see. I guess the main difference in the two of them is that Amy wants Nick to suffer, while Cathy just wants to be rid of Adam. Of the two, Cathy is the monster, because Amy’s behavior shows that she actually has some (albeit twisted) feelings for Nick. Cathy feels nothing.

Likable monsters.

They are both monsters. Both are an absolute joy to read; Amy left me with shivers and a sense of disgust, Cathy Trask gave me a dread and a real fear of her I can’t seem rid myself of. I can’t help but think Gillian Flynn has a worn copy of East of Eden somewhere on her bookshelf, with Cathy Trask’s chapter thoroughly bookmarked.

“To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.”

– John Steinbeck, East of Eden

What monsters have you read recently?