She said quietly, “Look at it this way, Carl. That was the big thing in my father’s life. He led a wagon train clear across the plains to the coast, and when it was finished, his life was done. It was a big thing to do, but it didn’t last long enough. Look!” she continued, “it’s as though he was born to do that, and after he finished it, there wasn’t any more for him to do but think about it and talk about it. If there’d been any further west to go, he’d have gone. He’s told me so himself. But at last there was the ocean. He lives right by the ocean where he had to stop.”
A literary giant offers this 100-page novella in four parts. Ostensibly we are tied to a single small ranching family in California, but Steinbeck being Steinbeck has larger fish to fry with his themes.
We view the passing of the mythic West, the, perhaps lesser spirit of contemporary non-Westering beings, and some bona fide heartbreak.
It is a curious amalgamation that feels a bit disconnected in its parts, but it is never less than beautifully written, chockful of incisive observation and it has a few surprises of character that may give one pause. They feel real, and that’s what renders the surprises more redolent.
Called one of the 100 Best Western Short Stories, I’ve no quibble with that estimation.