Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Tobacco Road (copy)

Is Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell meant to be taken seriously or is it a comedic tour de force? I read the book cold-turkey. This is how I like to describe a book in which I lack prior knowledge of plot, characterization, or theme. I merely pick the book up to try a new author or in this case I liked the title.

I was halfway through the book before I stopped to read the small bio, brief description, and critic comments located on the back cover. The New York Herald Tribune claims, “Mr. Caldwell’s humor, like Mark Twain’s, has as its source an imagination that stirs the emotions of the reader.”

Ah, Mark Twain(ish) humor, it is supposed to be funny. That changes everything! The characters and their disregard for human life, other than their own, was a little disheartening to read. Knowing now that it is a farce, allows me to really enjoy the story full of unbelievable characters.

Leading the role for most unbelievable is main character, Jeeter, patriarch of the Lester family. Jeeter is all about Jeeter. He even shoos his own mother from the dinner table. Ada, his wife and producer of 17 children, is a quiet woman, but lately, “hunger has loosened her tongue,” and made her a trite annoying. All of the children except for Dude, 16, and Ellie May, 17, have left home for the big city of Augusta, Georgia and its cotton mills. The youngest child, Pearl, 12, was traded to Lov Bensey for food. Grandmother Lester is allowed to haunt the house as long as she stays out of the way. The family actually wills her to wither and blow away.

The book was originally published in 1932, and the timeline is concurrent with the Depression. The Lesters have become sharecroppers on their own original Lester land after Jeeter squanders their assets with fraudulent home loans. As the story opens the family is subsiding on corn meal, snuff, and chicory, while Grandmother Lester forages off the land.

I am so thankful this book is comedic in nature. Not, laugh-track, ha-ha funny such as Beverly Hillbillies or Green Acres, but rather a relief these aren’t real people. The character Elly May Clampett is way more forgiving to the eyes than poor, hair-lipped Ellie May Lester. Oh, and how misleading is the title, where’s the tobacco?


sage said...

having come from tobacco farmers (grandfather on one side and all my great-grandparents), because of the title, and like you, and was shocked. The one thing I realized when reading the book is that I'd never been so hungry that I'd fight over a bag of turnips. Also, the squanding of the life insurance for a car (that respresents freedom and end ups a wreck) was so tragedic that I couldn't laugh.

A few years ago, I was shocked when someone put the movie Fargo in the top 100 funny movies. It was a good movie, but it wasn't in my opinion funny. Neither was Tobacco Road.

Anonymous said...

As a hillbilly I confess to detesting turnips, but boy do I love taters !! :-) "Fargo" was a fine movie too.

maggie moran said...

Good morning Sage & Paul,

I too grew up in a family of baccy farmers on my mother's side and the little work I did put me through 4 years of extree education. Not a lot of work mind you, I got $5,000 one year for settin' bacca. But, the Lester family hit way too close to home, as Caldwell picked characters from the best of my Dad's side.

I was sick to my stomach while reading this book. The ignorance of the clan was saddening, but in my nature I had to laugh-it was my only relief.

As for Fargo, it is the same-wasted life because of ignorance, and I had to laugh.

Thanks so much more making me think more on this book. I'm still trying to work it out although, you see, I rushed copy. :)

Isabel said...

I dont' think that I will read this book.

I am not in the mood to read about a child being traded to someone else.

I am glad that you were able to finish it. Quite a challenge.

maggie moran said...

If it helps WW100, Pearl is able to avoid any and all advances toward her virtue from Lov for a full year and a half, at which point she runs away to the mills of Augusta.

Anonymous said...

Oh I like your idea beginning a book cold-turkey! I rarely do that. I always read the back cover and inside flap. Sometimes I'll read reviews although I do try to skim them more than actually read them for fear of spoilers. Anyway back to the book, I had never heard of this but it sounds interesting.

maggie moran said...

Hi Iliana!

I read so many reviews for work I'm never able to remember them after I order the books. My bad memory comes in handy sometimes. :D

Reading cold-turkey is a challenge to me. I like to see if I can figure out things w/out being told. If I start to struggle, such as this one, I'll read the covers, forewords, and bio if any is available.

Forewords have no meaning in my universe, other than selling the book b/c another author talks about said book, it wastes my time. Don't readers want to hear another authors opinion of the book after they have read it instead of before? Gives them a chance to judge the 2nd authors opinion...

bethany (dreadlock girl) said...

Oh, this does look good!!! I will have to find it somewhere, now I have to figure out where.

maggie moran said...

Bethany - You can have my copy if you'd like. Just send me an e-mail w/your address. :)