The Pigman by Paul Zindel – Book Review

John Conlan and Lorraine Jensen interact as any teenagers who are not overwhelmed by the problems that beset them but deal with them as they come, sometimes not just one at a time. They alternate writing chapters to inject a multiple view of the same situation with pleasing variety. It is not unlike listening to two students eagerly revealing their escapades. The Pigman himself is not so much a character as he is an ideal personified in the body of Angelo Pignati.

But, it is clear that what the Pigman represents is transiently dynamic replaceable by any stimulus which has as its goal the acquisition of self-identity. It was by assisted chance that Lorraine selected the name during their random telephone marathon, but Angelo Pignati became an integral part of the youths’transitions from children to young adults. The Pigman, despite his wry humor indicative of regression to second childhood, issues profound challenges that test the perceptivity of John and Lorraine concerning their values. The combination of young innocence and aged experience fulfills both sets of needs for parental bonding sorely lacking in John and all too weak with Lorraine.

The revelation of the loss of the Pigman’s wife only heightens the need for this bond. The importance of honesty in any relationship is brought to light as Lorraine and John struggle with the decision whether or not to reveal to Mr. Pignati the truth about their chance meeting. He, however, is a master psychologist and knows how to extract from the unwary couple their subconscious aspirations. The negative parental images are not fiction; they recreate Paul Zindel’s own conflicts in his novel personae reflected not only in this story but also forming the common thread throughout his others.

As is so true to life, the depth of feeling for the Pigman is not realized until the pain they inflict on him is complete, albeit unintentional. It takes his inevitable death to punctuate the severity of their loss. It is not unintentional that similar images, like baboons, are replete throughout Zindel’s stories. They are meaningful to him and should be as significant to the readers no matter what their age might be.

Evaluation: Paul Zindel knows children, their problems, and some solutions. He doesn’t offer the answers to questions like Where am I going? but opens the child’s mind to possibilities that must be answered by the child himself. The story addresses peer problems concerning interpersonal relationships without wallowing in blatant sexuality, family ties, friendship, and death. But, the primary thrust of this story is personal identity at an age when individuality is so difficult to assert.

Recommendation: This story is appropriate for any student who can pick up the book and read with minimal effort. It is more than a tale of misadventure and emotion; it is a commentary on human behavior between family members, peers, and children with adults.

Teaching: The style of this narrative opens avenues for creativity not only for exploring other models based on the alternate writer method but also for answering questions addressed in the plot: Who is YOUR pigman? Where are YOU going? What is important to YOU? Different classes could take the same test the Pigman gave to Lorraine and John with the boatman and the assassin. Variations on that same theme, looking for personal values, may provide incredible insight into the personalities of students and teachers alike.