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Found: The Pigman booktalk

July 13, 2011
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(I’ve been digging through old emails and an old thumb drive, and I came across the booktalk I presented back in December for the YA job. I haven’t re-read this (cos re-reading my opener is making me cringe): if it’s good, I’ll take all the credit; if it sucks, whatever – read it (the book). Also, I’ve found a ton of old poems and sketch ideas. They’ve been nice to revisit.)

The Pigman by Paul Zindel

Paul Zindel’s The Pigman, published in 1968 by Harper & Row, is a character-driven novel that was the first to capture a sincere look at teenage life.

Zindel set out to write The Pigman after he realized that few books actually dealt with teens and their real world problems: alienation from their peers and families, their natural distaste for school, and the lengths they will go to get away from these issues. Zindel went straight to the source and found that teens were tired of reading – especially books that painted them simply as “troublemakers.” The result is Zindel’s classic story of two high school sophomores – John and Lorraine – who are so bored in modern America that when they’re not skipping school – or in John’s case, gluing his parent’s phone receiver down – they’re pranking innocent people and scheming them for their “charity,” The L & J Fund.

These after school pranks – in which the goal is to keep the victim on the phone as long as possible – brings Mr. Pignati into their lives. When they first talk to Mr. Pignati, John and Lorraine realize one thing quickly: he’s a lonely man. Since the story is written with John and Lorraine alternating narration each chapter, they approach this in two different ways: Lorraine, fulfilling the goal of the prank, decides they have disturbed him enough and they should leave him alone; but John, charismatic and rebellious, immediately sees a way to make a quick buck and asks for a donation to their fund, which Mr. Pignati gladly offers.

What’s key in this book is the narration. As Lorraine, in one chapter, tells the reader something about John or the Pigman, the reader will learn quickly to trust her. John… is another story: his ego beams in every paragraph of his narration, only to be muted by Lorraine’s rationality the following chapters.

The two teens meet Mr. Pignati the next day and rename him The Pigman. Mr. Pignati is pot-bellied, sad-faced, and the owner of countless knick knack pigs. He claims his wife – who he also claims is out of state – picks the pigs out, but his odd connection to them makes it clear to John and Lorraine that the Pigman is very much alone. John exploits this, while Lorraine inches the two of them closer to the door. They soon meet with the Pigman regularly – at his home, but often at the zoo – and develop relationships that each was searching for at home.

But, at what price? What does this odd relationship actually mean to the eccentric Mr. Pignati? Where does John end up after he’s spent so much time sneaking out of class to act like his parents, his poor role models? What does Lorraine find out about herself – and her relationship with John – when tragedy strikes this unlikely trio?

As they alternate narration each chapter, John and Lorraine paint different stories that are clear in the end as each realizes what the other friend means to them… and how the Pigman taught them the similarities between the young and the old.

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