I was pleasantly surprise by "East of Eden" having been tortured in high school by another one of John Steinbeck's works "The Grapes of Wrath". In my mind "East of Eden" is a much better book that the "The Grapes of Wrath" reading it did not feel like torture and I did not fall asleep once while reading it.
This is not a plot driven story. There is no huge climax or elaborate conflict that needs to be overcome. It is all about the characters. The characters are all wonderful and mulit-faceted. Steinbeck really thought them all out well and it worked. They kept the story moving forward and kept me interested in it. In "East of Eden" Steinbeck shows the best of people and the worse of people. There are dreamers, romantics,physcos, the hole nine yards. I think it is an excellent example of a character driven novel.
There is a lot of imagery and sometimes in seemed unnecessary and heavy handed. But Steinbeck did want to write a novel about Salinas, so to him it was important. Not so much so for me, because I could envision easily a dusty western back drop.
It was really hard for me to rate this book. It was not a page turner for me. I could (and did) put the book down for several days and pick up were I left off, very easily. While the story was engaging it was also long. So, breaks were necessary. I gave it a 4 because of how well written and planned it was. It probably would not be the first book I would recommend to a friend but if someone asked if I read it and wanted an opinion I would not hesitated to encourage them to read it.