cover image Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage

Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage

Susan Shillinglaw. Univ. of Nevada, $34.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-87417-930-9

As portrayed by San Jose State University English professor and Steinbeck expert Shillinglaw (A Journey into Steinbeck's California), John Steinbeck's first wife, Carol Henning Steinbeck, was witty, gifted, and fiercely practical. In addition, she loved the limelight and was adept at grand gesture. Her husband, though driven, tended to be moody and self-absorbed. Carol, according to this impressive biography, was also the driving force behind John's political conscience, and assisted him with The Grapes of Wrath ("To Carol who willed it," the dedication reads in part). But the wealth and fame brought by the novel's success also brought disappointment, estrangement, and divorce. "In another era," Shillinglaw writes with eloquence and grace, "[Carol] might have run a small company, shaped something larger than John into a force for good but she could not or would not imagine great things for herself." In later life, Carol Steinbeck took offence at comparisons to Zelda Fitzgerald, but like Zelda, she has been blessed with a terrific biographer. (Oct.)