Racist? Wow, that's a tough one. If Gabriel Garcia-Marquez had written this novella, nobody would call it racist. It would be about a bunch of lazy drunk unambitious men who just happen to be Mexican-Indian-Italian-little-bit-of-everything.
Still, Garcia-Marquez didn't write it, Steinbeck did. Can the exact same words, and not just a phrase - what up, homey? - but 70,000 exact same words in a row - be racist when coming from a Californian of European descent, when they would not from a Colombian whose first language is Spanish?
I really don't know.
So I'm going to pretend the book was written by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, and what a great book it is. His usual elements of eye-widening, soul-delighting surrealism are out in full force, what with women that seem to get pregnant without help, children thriving on just beans, but brought near death by vegetables and milk, and dogs and ghosts and all kinds of stuff that live right between reality and full frontal assault fantasy seizure.
And Garcia-Marquez' characters - just great. They are so messed up, but I swear by the time the book's over you'll see every situation exactly as they do. There's no situation they can't solve - really solve - by selling something for more wine.
As with any story of Garcia-Marquez, you know there's going to be humor - the winking dry variety, wherein our narrator is playing along with his characters, but also letting you know it's just a playalong.
This may rank right up there with his best - Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. Make sure to get a copy by Garcia-Marquez, though. The one by Steinbeck has too many embarrassingly stereotypical Latino behaviors, which were tolerated in the 1930's but are not today.