For a minute Rose of Sharon sat still in the whispering barn. Then she hoisted her tired body up and drew comfort about her. She moved slowly to the corner and stood looking down at the wasted face, into the wide, frightened eyes. Then slowly she lay down beside him. He shook his head from side to side. Rose of Sharon loosed one side of the blanket and bared her breast. “You got to,” she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. “There!” she said. “There.” Her hand moved behind his head and supported it. Her fingers moved gently in his hair. She looked up across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.
The cover lured me in the usual way. A lovely girl bulging voluptuously out of a skimpy, tattered dress with a lustful man in worker’s clothes standing over her, ready to ravage her. The only honest bit on the cover was the battered old truck, piled high with household belongings, in the background. It was simply the result of the habit in those days, of putting a near naked girl on the cover of any paperback book. Some, like this one, had little or nothing to do with the contents. (Others exaggerated absurdly—my copy of Crime and Punishment offered a sexy girl clutching an inadequate bath-towel and screaming in terror as a dark figure wielding an tomahawk closes in on her.)
The book in question here was described as ‘earthy’ which seemed to mean vulgar and crude, but my sexual ignorance remained undimmed by it. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck’s masterpiece, read to me like a sort of western without horses and six-guns. On re-reading it years later, it still had that same mythological character that westerns do, and for all its honesty, did not seem very firmly rooted in the real world of poverty and hardship at all. The book was absorbing, and beautiful, and I understand it shocked the educated classes of America with its frankness, and the thought that such deprivations still existed in the land of the free.
I enjoyed both readings, but it all seemed very fake to me.