This is one of Steinbeck's earliest books - a collection of 12 loosely related short stories, each only 15 pages or so, on average. All the stories take place in a semi-imaginary Las Pasturas del Cielo valley in Monterey County in California, and tell of the lives of various families in the farming community formed there. Typically for Steinbeck's books, the book expresses his obvious fascination with that lush agricultural valley and its hardworking, honest people.

But it is mainly about those people's dreams, most of them unfulfilled - some hidden, and some explicit. He does a wonderful job of developing the characters in the book in such a short space. Each short story has at least one (and sometimes two) very well developed character, which is indeed admirable. Steinbeck did not bother with a central plot that would take up most of the space in the book. Instead, he cleverly set all the short stories in the same small community, such that in the first couple of stories he's already developed all the required background for the rest of the stories to take place in, so he barely spent needless sentences later and plunged right into developing his wonderful characters.

That Steinbeck wrote this book at the age of only 30 is unbelievable. I'm going to be 30 in a couple of years, and I can't imagine having the life experience required to even think up of such various human lives and experiences. For some reason he chose to end almost all stories on a negative tone as the lives of his main characters didn't go very well. I wonder why.

To conclude, this book is highly recommended! As far as my meager literary experience can tell me, it is a masterpiece. Definitely the best collection of short stories I've ever read! At only 170 pages, it can serve as a great, lightweight introduction to Steinbeck.