I began this with some trepidation, considering its length. I made it through, but I doubt I'll read it again.
I was prevented from sinking deep into the story, though, which is why I am hesitant to say I really liked the book. I think I was prevented from being entirely drawn into Steinbeck's world of Salinas because of Steinbeck's writing. I found the writing in this book to be astoundingly beautiful; the descriptions of the characters and the locations were detailed to the point that I could nearly see the characters in front of me. And the landscapes of the farming areas of Salinas were likewise done with such a fine touch that I could imagine myself there.
And therein was part of my problem, I think. The entire time I was reading the book, I was aware that Steinbeck was consciously and deliberately trying to write the Great American Novel. I could only read this book as a period piece, a product of its time. The characters, while beautifully drawn in their detail, were simply pawns in his larger project. I won't say that the characters were entirely cardboard, but even the characters that are drawn in the most detail--Adam and Cathy, for example--still seem weak to me.
Of course, you can't miss the biblical parallels, which I thought were a bit overdrawn. I mean, if you're writing the Great American Novel, you have to really go for your metaphors, so I guess the Cal/Cain, Aron/Abel, Adam, and Cathy/Eve parallels have to be overdone. But I have to say that the biblical precedents for all these characters are pretty thin too, so I guess Steinbeck was doing the best he could with the material he was given.
I guess in a nutshell, I came away with a sort of disinterested fascination with Steinbeck's impressive mastery of language and writing, but not really moved by the story. It was as though the characters were acting out their story at the end of the kaleidoscope of Steinbeck's beautiful writing, so most of their motives were obscured, which distanced me from the characters, and thus from the story and its metaphors.
Recommended with reservations: for those who want to read a period piece, or who want to see a master writer at the top of his game.