John Steinbeck was born and grew up in Salinas, California, a part of the fertile region he would later call the Pastures of Heaven in a collection of short stories and the setting for many of his works. The Nobel-winning novelist was born on February 27, 1902.
His first critical and commercial success was Tortilla Flat set in and around Monterey, California, and featuring a small band of ne’er-do-well paisanos living for wine and good times after World War I. The novel was a sort of rogue’s tale, full of rough and earthy humor. From here Steinbeck moved on to more serious portrayals of the economic problems facing the rural working class in the social novels for which he became known — In Dubious Battle in 1936, Of Mice and Men in 1937, and his most important work The Grapes of Wrath in 1939, the saga of hardscrabble Oklahoma tenant farmers who became America’s migrant workers.
Steinbeck’s California did not take kindly to his portrayal. His books were banned, and in his hometown, twice burned in public protests. In fact, his books were banned in schools and libraries throughout the country and continued to be well into this century. Steinbeck was one of the ten most banned authors from 1990 to 2004 (according to the American Library Association), Of Mice and Men, sixth out of the top 100 banned books.
Later novels include Cannery Row, East of Eden, Travels with Charley, and The Winter of Our Discontent. Steinbeck died in 1968.
Judy Drownded, Part 1: Where’s Judy?
“Hurry, Raymond,” urged the young woman, skipping through the palms and sea grapes that separated the quiet beach from the laughter and tinny music spewing from the Crab Hole.
“It’s too late, Judy,” whined Raymond, padding behind. “It’s almost midnight, and we shouldn’t be here.” The rhythmic lapping of the water now overpowered the scratchy wail of “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White,” a recording that was celebrating its fiftieth year on the Crab Hole juke box.
“But this is the best time,” Judy gushed. “Smell the frangipani. Look at all those stars. Look at me. She tugged at Raymond’s arm, dragging him to where the water lapped at their feet. “You know why it’s the best time?” She swayed back and forth, smiling at him, stupefying him with wanton eyes.
“Why?” asked Raymond.
“Because we don’t have to wear anything. And you’ll be able to see what all the others would die to see.” She unbuttoned buttons and untied ties, letting each of her few bits of apparel drop to the sandy beach. Raymond did the same, reluctant out of fear but hooked by desire. Judy finished undressing, and Raymond, pants off, shirt still on, stared at her, unable to move. She stood, letting him stare at her momentarily, then giggled, grabbed his pants and ran into the water.
“Come and get them,” she taunted. “Come and get me.”
“But . . .”
“I’m waiting.” Her voice had grown smaller.
“I can’t swim,” Raymond groaned.
“Don’t be silly.” Judy’s voice was now as far off as “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.” Raymond waded into the water, until it was above his waist and tugging him toward the deep end of the ocean. He realized it was hopeless; he dared go no further, no matter how much desire percolated within him. As he retreated, he heard the distant scream – Judy’s scream – just once, then silence.
“Judy,” he shouted. “Are you all right?” No reply. He called her name again several times, and when there was still no answer, he turned and ran. He scrambled across the beach, back through the palms and sea grapes, tripping often, to the road and to the Crab Hole, where “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom” bleated a final musical orgasm. He crashed through the door. The six patrons inside grabbed their glasses of rum and looked up in surprise, the now silent the jukebox heightening the drama of the moment.
“Something’s happened,” Raymond shouted into the silence. “Something terrible.”
“Boy,” said Chicken Avery. “Do you know you got no pants on?”
Judy Drownded is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.