I'm a sci-fi writer and reader, although, let's be honest - I'll read just about anything that moves me, regardless of the genre.
I picked up the Pearl because I wanted a quick read. Apparently based on a Mexican folk tale, the Pearl is a cautionary tale of the price of getting everything you think you wanted.
The Pearl follows a pretty traditional plot pattern - poor indians marginalized by the Europeans dream of finding enough pearls to lift them from their abject poverty - cut to Kino and his wife Juana and their little son Coyotito - Kino finds the mother of pearls and guess what? It corrupts EVERYONE. People lie, kill each other, Kino beats the crap out of Juana, and in the end, in seemingly classic Steinbeck style, something terrible happens.
So, not an entirely happy story, and not an original one. Probably good for a middle school or high school English class. What I did like was how short he kept the story. Steinbeck didn't overdevelop it. Folk tales, myths, etc. are short for a reason. Had Steinbeck turned The Pearl into another East of Eden, it would have been far worse.
Overall, this is a good short read. It takes basic human behavior and displays it in an easy to process bit. If you're a writer looking to flesh out a story, I always recommend reading simplistic shorts like this because there is no extra noise to get stuck in. The characters's in the Pearl aren't complex, and such are great for reading in order to learn how to develop complex characters. Start with a strong foundation, and build from there.
I recommend this book if you're looking to get back to the basics.