91. Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell

Year Published: 1932
Pages: 281 (illustrated!)

First sentence: Lov Bensey trudged homeward through the deep white sand of the gully-washed tobacco road with a sack of winter turnips on his back.

Seriously can we all just agree that fiction set in the 30s must contain attractive young transients and murder and nothing else?

I'll be the first person to admit that I have a bad case of rose-coloured glasses. I'm nowhere near as socially conscious as I should be. So I feel like kind of a naive ass for giving this book a low rating (to be fair "low" is rather tenuous when there are only three possible ratings...). But I have reasons! Sort of good ones! And I'll tell you what they are.

But first, the plot. The book is about the Lester family, or what's left of it. They're tenant farmers in the early 30s, except that the man they rent from basically abandoned cotton farming for better things about a decade before the events of the book. The Lesters starve and wander and just sort of exude misery all over the pages. I'm not sure how far to get into it. Jeeter is the head of the family, useless for anything except loving the land. Ellie May is 18 and a hopeless case because of her cleft lip. Dude is "simple," 16, and pursued by Sister Bessie Rice, who makes no sense whatsoever. Lov Bensey is married to 12 year-old Pearl Lester, and trying to figure out how to get her and her pretty blonde hair into bed with him, instead of running away whenever he tries to touch her.

The summary of this book is the same as it is for Ironweed, really. That is to say: It was the 30s, and everything was fucking shitty, and then everybody died. Spoiler alert: not everybody dies.

So look, this book made me incredibly uncomfortable, so I guess the author made his point in that respect. It forced me to acknowledge my own luck/privilege, and I suppose literature does have a certain responsibility to do that now and then. But! I felt like the author was being pretty condescending toward his characters, and I hate it when authors do that without any trace of affection. That's almost definitely part of the point here, and once again I'm just a horrible person, but agh. Words fail me. It was just so depressing.

Listen, this is my blog and I'll do what I want. If I rated solely based on the books accomplishing what they set out to do, this one would get 3/3. But as far as the whole reading experience goes, I can't really recommend it, because all it'll do is break your heart, in a bad way. So I've compromised.

Nothing. In lieu of quotations, can anyone direct me to some links or books about "frontier sexuality"? I.e. when and where did Ma and Pa Ingalls get busy, and how did that shape attitudes about sexuality? I promise this is book-related. Read it, and I think you'll see I'm making the best out of a bad situation by being curious about this. -M.R.

Rating: 2/3 (meh)

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