So, I read this omnibus of Steinbeck books and I want to review all the novels separately. Then at the end, I might have a couple of things to say about the omnibus and the notes and intro and such.
Anyway, The Moon is Down was published in 1942 and it’s a very different kind of Steinbeck story. It’s set in an unspecified European locale and the essential plot is how this tiny European town reacts when the town is occupied by enemy forces. This is obviously a parable about the Nazis in Europe, though the story never names any of the countries. Steinbeck himself said he wanted to write a manual for creating a resistance movement. But the book isn’t a dry manual at all; it’s a deep, emotionally varied story. Parts of the story are surprisingly funny. The characterizations of the enemy are interesting; they’re not ideologues, just working guys there to do an unpleasant job and the story mines some humor from this. But by the end, the story has morphed into a book of deep sadness and despair. The tragedy of the townspeople is that they’re forced to become violent people by the situation; the tragedy of the invaders is that they’re stranded in a situation they never asked for and don’t want. There are some really striking scenes; a subplot about an invading soldier that has a crush on a local woman is just devastating and the final scene of that plot is almost unbearably painful and the best scene in the book.
Anyway, it’s not very long, the characters are well sketched and Steinbeck conjures a deeply effecting mood. Fantastic! Great book. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – story of occupied village in war time Europe is even-handed, beautifully written and emotionally draining. 4 stars.