John Steinbeck -- 267 pps.
What a relief to read Steinbeck after Flaubert. His writing at first seemed clumsy and I was laughing at it, but I then realized the influence of Flaubert's dickishness was upon me. Soon I was lost in the excellent character of Ethan Hawley (who provides first-person narration, which Steinbeck does rarely), engaged by the complicated bank robbery plot, interested in the highly unusual (that is, sexual) descriptions of Margie, and Steinbeck's imagination, which really must be his best attribute. (If only Flaubert could have taken note!)
Winter is most like The Wayward Bus which was also a later book, but the most notable aspect is Ethan, who is a walking embodiment of virtue and the canon. His descent into "depravity" is subtle and rapid, and Steinbeck achieves the concluding scenes with power and grace. Nothing like Grapes of Wrath but still inspiring -- if other writers could turn out ones like this, Franzen wouldn't need to write essays about how nobody reads novels!
Guess you figured it out, bud!
The first thirty pages are slow and there are a few slip-ups there (Steinbeck's characters like to explain central themes in dialogue apparently) but the dignity afforded to these people makes you want to keep reading. I would guess Steinbeck was a good person. I love this book and everything it means to me.
Most of all, it got the awful taste of Flaubert out of my mouth.