Erskine Caldwell has created a work so powerfully rendered that the events and characters portrayed feel absolutely real. Thus, as Tobacco Road is an oppressively sad tale of the absolute poorest of the poor in the rural south, it packs a devastating punch. Frankly, this book is actually difficult to read at times. (I loan it to my dad to read & he asks, "Do you ever find yourself reading it and disbelieving that the author actually just wrote what he did on the page?" Yes.)
Classic Bitch's dad also points out that right after the time period portrayed in the book, FDR implemented the sweeping social programs of the New Deal era. If you ever doubt the need for any of that legislation, read this book. For my part, while reading it, I note the thematic similarities with one of my least favorite books so far, Wide Sargasso Sea. Poverty-stricken white characters in both stories here suffer under the notion that the worst possible fate is to be so poor that blacks laugh at you.
Funny that the author of the forward of my edition writes about Tobacco Road as a "black comedy." I have to disagree here. Likening this book to black comedy feels akin to laughing at a retarded person. If a reader is moved to laugh here, it may be a defense that surfaces in light of the stark brutality of the book. Otherwise, the only recourse you have is to look away from the page, as Dad & I both have to do several times in the course of reading Erskine Caldwell's masterpiece. And if it takes bravery to read this book, what do you think it took to write it?