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These interviews remained unpublished for more than four decades, until they were discovered in a loft in Wales in Steinbeck was cruel to his wife, particularly during two difficult pregnancies, and the book portrays a man of boorish behaviour and bizarre habits. The only time she ever saw him cry was when his pet rat, called Burgess, died. After they had two children together — Thomas, born in , and John Steinbeck IV, born in — the acrimony became unbearable and she divorced him in He would also fight her in court throughout the next decade to avoid paying child support.

A Cold-Blooded Business

Steinbeck, a heavy drinker, was not blind to his own failings and mood swings. In this period of mental health problems, he produced some of the strangest work of his career. In , he published a short story called The Affair at 7 Rue de M , a horror-like tale about a child who is unable to get rid of a piece of bubble gum. In desperation, the father cements the gum to a dining table and it takes a week for the piece of gum to die. Steinbeck later burned dozens of stories from this period.

He also abandoned a novel about a man who watches one too many westerns on television and then puts on a cowboy hat and heads out to be an urban vigilante. Perhaps he has a point. What can we ultimately conclude from the knowledge that Steinbeck preferred writing with pencils using up to 60 in a day , that he liked jazz, enjoyed playing the harmonica, laughed at jokes by Bob Hope, preferred smoking small cigars and regularly snacked on tuna-covered crackers, washed down by red wine? In , for example, shocked by reports of the Nazi looting and burning of Jewish homes and synagogues in Germany, he was among a small band of writers, including Dorothy Parker, who sent a telegram to President Franklin D Roosevelt urging him to cut all ties with Hitler.

Steinbeck was certainly a progressive in a backward era of race relations. Not only did the Fox bosses deny his request, they actively stepped up a publicity campaign that highlighted Steinbeck as the screenwriter. The Oscar nomination he received simply added salt to the wound. Despite these laudable actions, he was not above his own dirty tactics.

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He became friends with President Johnson helping him to write his acceptance speech and reported sympathetically on the Vietnam war from late to early It could fire a hundred rounds of calibre bullets every second. The writer loved going target practice shooting with the same type of M16 rifle the troops carried. He even manned a US army outpost during a night of sporadic fire. His sons Thomas and John were on active duty in the US army at the time of his visit.

It is a characteristically odd twist that the year-old who was able to survive a night taking on the Vietcong — and an attack on a helicopter in which he was a passenger — did himself irreparable harm with the innocuous action of lifting some beer. As he lifted the case of beer, he ruptured a spinal disc. Six months later, still in agonising pain, he had a five-hour operation on his back. The last few months before his death from a heart attack at his East 72nd Street home in New York were deeply miserable. There is no shortage of fascinating material for Pulitzer finalist Souder to re-examine.

With Steinbeck, the unexpected was the norm. The writer enjoyed the idiosyncrasy of humans. Never let them see you bleed. Never get separated from your luggage. Always find out when the bar opens.

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Souder says he is excited by the challenge of writing about such a complex figure. He got side-tracked by ideas that were a waste of his time and talent. Some of his work is brilliant and some of it is awful.

I love that. He was mad at the world because it seemed somehow mad at him. Ten years before his death, this conflicted genius wrote a memorable letter to Thomas Steinbeck the full version is available here , after his year-old son revealed he had fallen desperately in love with a girl named Susan. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable.

If it is right, it happens — the main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.

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