"The Pig Did It"
(Reviewed by Mike Frechette APR 12, 2008)
"Aaron had been unlucky in love. And now his body and his soul, trapped in perpetual tantrum, had come to parade their grievances within sight of the sea. Surely the rising waves would rear back in astonishment at his plight, cresting, then falling, bowing down at the sight of such suffering. Solemn would be his step, stricken his gaze. Only the vast unfathomable sea could be a worthy spectator to his sorrows. The culminating act of Aaron McCloud's love for Phila Rambeaux would soon come to pass at this edge, this end of the ancient world."
Throughout history, the pig has played a central role in helping both storytellers and authors achieve their literary aims and objectives. Well, maybe not a central role – but pigs do come up from time to time in major works of literature. Besides countless children’s books, they have appeared in major works ranging from Homer’s The Odyssey to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. A creature of many different qualities, the pig has served a variety of literary purposes, being cast as dirty and disgusting in one instance and as the intellectuals of the animal kingdom in another.
The most recent literary pig sighting occurs in Joseph Caldwell’s newest novel, The Pig Did It. In this Irish country comedy, Aaron McCloud, a lovelorn American, journeys to the island nation to stay with his Aunt Kitty and indulge his ego-driven self-pity. On the way to her house, he encounters the local swineherd, Lolly McKeever, whose vehicle has gone off road, allowing her cargo – a herd of pigs – to escape. After chasing one down, Aaron returns to the scene only to discover both his bus and the swineherd have left without him.
This precocious pig ends up following Aaron to his Aunt Kitty’s home, where it literally unearths a secret that sets the novel’s plot in motion. What starts out as a melodramatic American’s innocent enough escape to another land becomes a humorous tale with an unsolved murder at its center. Caldwell entertains his readers with mysterious underground passageways and Irish barroom brawls, allusions to Irish mythology and a genuine Irish wake. The characters – including Aaron himself – are types, but of course stereotypes are the source of laughter in a farce such as this one. And Caldwell’s metaphors are hysterically jolting in their originality: “Phila came, wearing a dress of black silk with orange and blue geometrics that looked like intergalactic debris left behind by a failed space probe.”
Ironically, another source of the book’s humor revolves around its more serious concern with the question of authenticity. As the reader progresses, it becomes clear that the novel is preoccupied with this question. We learn that Aunt Kitty makes her living writing knockoffs of literary classics. Aaron himself knows that he is not suffering from love. Rather, “he had chosen [one of his students] to love him,” and when she rejected him, he needed to feign suffering in order to gratify his own fragile ego. And the – excuse the slang – corker is that Aaron thinks he can recognize a lack of authenticity in others. When he first encounters Lolly gleefully struggling with her pigs, she seems phony to him, her “happy abandon hardly consistent with her present predicament.”
Aaron’s inability to recognize the authentic extends to his perception of things Irish, which for the most part simply mirrors the popular American imagination. When Aaron returns from a walk on the beach in one chapter, he imagines himself as “Cuchulain of old, up out of the sea.” At the beginning of another chapter, he imagines the local pub as “the drinking hall of an ancient chief.” And while walking to his Aunt Kitty’s home near the novel’s beginning, he honestly thinks he will not have any trouble hitching a ride because after all, “these were hospitable people.” In other words, his idea of Ireland, while romantic and sentimental, is exactly that – romantic, sentimental rubbish that is based largely on ancient myth and popular stereotype. The reader cannot help but chortle when nobody will offer Aaron a lift, or when he emerges from the sea not like the heroic Cuchulain but, in reality, shivering and miserable.
In all the talk about authenticity, this review has lost sight of the pig – and on making a concise assessment of the novel. Even if you have a low tolerance for animal-derived humor in literature, please do not let that dissuade you from reading this book. Yes, the pig has a major role by acting as a catalyst for the action, but the book is primarily about an American’s unexpected adventure in another country. It is an adventure that brings into relief his pretension, egotism, and lack of authenticity and uses these qualities to create humor and laughter. It is a short, delightfully funny tale that should only take a couple of sessions to finish. And if you enjoy it, you will be pleased to know that Caldwell plans on turning this into a trilogy.
- Amazon readers rating: from 24 reviews
Excerpt from The Pig Did It at Delphinium Books
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- In Such Dark Places (1978)
- The Deer At the River (1984)
- Under the Dog Star (1987)
- The Uncle from Rome (1992)
- Bread for the Baker's Child (2002)
- The Pig Did It (December 2007)
- The Pig Comes to Dinner (May 2009)
- The Pig Goes to Hog Heaven (October 2010)
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- Washington Post review of The Pig Did It
- Christian Science Monitor review of The Pig Did It
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Pig Comes to Dinner
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About the Author:
Joseph Caldwell was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but has lived most his life in New York City. He is a playwright and a novelist. He twice held the John Golden Fellowship in Playwriting at Yale University's School of Drama, and was awarded The Rome Prize in Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
He lives in New York City.