The art of oral storytelling was the inspiration Thomas Steinbeck had in writing Down to a Soundless Sea. He describes in the author’s note, this family tradition, and the difficulty of reproducing an “aura of performance, a flavor of language, and a sense of period,” to the written page.
Having spent his childhood listening to his famous father, John, recount his childhood, adventures, and history from the turn of the century to the 1930’s, Thomas Steinbeck immersed himself with the backdrop of the Monterey coast, to form the common thread that is witnessed in this inspired book of short stories.
Steinbeck’s gifted ability to instantly draw the reader into the story, to use imagery and enriching character development for each of the seven stories, is truly a pleasure to read. At the end of the book, I had experienced the joy of storytelling as if an old friend from the past was visiting and sharing stories for an afternoon.
Hardships, torment weather, loves and friendships weave their way through the book. The guiding light of love and the powerful force of nature are introduced in the first story, and from there a cast of characters, from sailors, doctors, immigrants and ranchers, vividly tell their stories.
In “An Unbecoming Grace,” a country doctor cares for an ill-tempered patient but is more concerned for the welfare of the man’s fraught young wife, and the story quickly takes a humorous turn. “Blink Luck” gives hopes and dreams a platform against the odds. The novella, “Sing Fat and the Imperial Duchess of Woo,” concludes the stories as it tracks the tragic love story between a young Chinese immigrant and the woman he hopes to marry.
A special treat at the end of the book is an interview with Thomas Steinbeck from his research of the colorful vocabulary to his view on social inequity that his characters struggle with. Down to a Soundless Sea sits on my shelf as a beloved masterpiece.