Summary and book reviews of Down To A Soundless Sea by Thomas Steinbeck

Down To A Soundless Sea

by Thomas Steinbeck

Down To A Soundless Sea
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2002, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2003, 336 pages

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Book Summary

Deeply felt and richly imagined, full of compelling drama and historical authenticity, Thomas Steinbeck's stories are as memorable and rugged as the coastline that inspired them. Click the excerpt link to read a complete short story.

Here is an unprecedented fiction debut that is cause for celebration. Growing up in a family that valued the art of storytelling and the power of oral history, Thomas Steinbeck now follows in his father's footsteps with a brilliant story collection. Down to a Soundless Sea resonates with the rich history and culture of California, recalling vivid details of life in Monterey County from the turn of the century through the 1930s. Steinbeck accomplishes an amazing feat: his stories have the feel of classic literature, but his haunting voice, forceful narrative drive, and dazzling imagery are unmistakably his own.

In seven stories, Steinbeck traces the fates and dreams of an eccentric cast of characters, from sailors and ranchers, to doctors and immigrants—as each struggles to carve out a living in the often inhospitable environment of rocky cliffs, crashing surf, and rough patches of land along the California coast and the Big Sur. In "Blind Luck," a wayward orphan finds his calling at sea, only to learn that life must concede to the whims of authority and the ravages of nature. In "Dark Watcher," with the country at the start of the Great Depression, a professor craves a plausible discovery to boost his academic standing—and encounters the Indian myth of a shadowed horsemen that may ruin his career. "An Unbecoming Grace" tracks the route of a country physician who cares for an ill-tempered cur—but feels more concern for the well-being of the patient's beleaguered young wife. The collection concludes with "Sing Fat and the Imperial Duchess of Woo," a novella that follows the tragic love story between a young apothecary and the woman he hopes to marry.

Deeply felt and richly imagined, full of compelling drama and historical authenticity, Down to a Soundless Sea heralds the arrival of a bold new voice in fiction. Thomas Steinbeck has written stories as memorable and rugged as the coastline that inspired them.

The Night Guide

Eighteen fifty-nine was the devil's own year for gales along the Sur coast, but their raucous zenith was registered near the end of April. Crashing up from the south-southwest with piratical ferocity, the cycle of gales unburdened enough water to send the Little and Big Sur Rivers four to six feet over their banks. The runoff from Pico Blanco alone kept the Little Sur at near flood for two weeks.

Sadly, every mortal creature that made the rugged coast a refuge suffered from the shattering blows of an outraged sea. Cresting rollers twenty feet high and two miles long mined into the impenetrable cliffs and rocks for days on end. Inevitably, every rookery, bower, haul-out, and nesting sight on the Monterey coast was swept away. The corpses of every known species of coastal life littered what shore there was left. The sharks enjoyed abundance for days after each gale.

The evidence of destruction was to be had from all quarters. Salmon Creek to Santa Cruz ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the implications of "home" in Down to a Soundless Sea. The collection opens with Bill Post constructing a home for his new family; Chapel Lodge in "Blind Luck" never has a real home growing up; and Dean in "An Unbecoming Grace" makes his home by throwing its original settler over a cliff and renaming the homestead for himself. What does the concept of "home" imply specifically in these stories of the newly settled Monterey Coast?

  2. "The Wool Gatherer" ends with the line, "John kept that receipt for years to remind him of his bear and the expense incurred by magic visions." What might this reference to "expense" imply, especially in a family of storytellers like the Steinbecks, who hold the "magic visions" of fiction in such high ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Stylistically speaking, the apple doesn't fall far from the family tree in this debut collection by Steinbeck (son of John), a solid series of stories that deal with the settling of the Monterey Peninsula early in the 20th century.

Library Journal - Patrick Sullivan

This very appealing first collection draws on folklore, historical research, and tales that Steinbeck (son of John) heard growing up....A noble addition to the Steinbeck legacy.

Author Blurb Pat Conroy
Thomas Steinbeck writes with grace, authority, and passion. If John Steinbeck were my father, I would not have the courage to write a laundry list or a letter to the editor. But Thomas Steinbeck inherited his father's great love of story. It is a grand thing to have a Steinbeck back in American letters.

Author Blurb Terence McNally
These tough, unsparing stories are written as if they were lived, not imagined, by their author. Thomas Steinbeck has found his own voice and he exults in the sound of it. This is authentic, honest American writing. The kind of writing a father would be proud of.

Author Blurb Dan Chaon, Author of the National Book Award Finalist Among the Missing
Thomas Steinbeck's stories breathe vivid new life into nineteenth-century California, and bring to mind the pleasures of such writers as Hamlin Garland, Jack London, and Stephen Crane. This is a splendidly assured and convincing debut.

Reader Reviews

Anonymous

Having been a reader of John Steinbeck's writing for over 20 years, I rightly wondered what son Thom might have to offer. Upon reading Down to a Soundless Sea, it is immediately evident that Thom has inherited his father's love of telling a good ...   Read More

richard ponemon

I can't disagree with the many reviewers who have lauded this book. However I have a slightly negative feeling about an impression I get from his vocabularies. That is: I get a feeling that the use of various specialized vocabularies, the work-...   Read More

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