Down to a Soundless Sea
Except for the first story, set in the mid-nineteenth century, the rest of the stories’ settings are in the early twentieth century, and all take place along California’s rugged Monterey coast. What they also share is a sort of fabulous quality. For example, in one story, a mysterious light guides a young boy to the rescue of his Indian mother during a horrific storm. In another, a young dreamer, who is working the summer as a cowboy, wastes all his time and ruins his reputation pursuing proof of the extinct “Big Sur Bear” he claims to have encountered. In another shorter story, a frustrated anthropology professor searches for fame in the discovery of important Native America campsites, only to be humiliated by his own blind ambition. The final story, which is more of a novella, tells of a Chinese immigrant’s long struggle for happiness and how he finds it in a strange, ironic way.
As Steinbeck notes, the oral traditions of the Monterey coast are the origins of these well-written stories, and that quality permeates them. They are entertaining, and, yet, tell us more of the character and experience of the people who lived there than any history book could.